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Dawn of A New Era

Written by General Woundwort

In honor of the upcoming release of the Highliner Mod...

Tension hung in the air throughout the space station's main control room. Everyone - scientists, technicians, media reporters, military attaches, politicians – went about their work, or their observation of that work, with a crisp nervousness. Conversation was abrupt and hushed. And in the center of the control room, still as a statue, stood the Project Director. For one and a half decades the Director had been given the task of making the VOYAGER Project a reality. Two months before, that task was completed. And now, thought the Director, comes the hard part.

The Director stood, unmoving, and stared at the viewscreen that filled one entire wall of the control room. That screen in turn was filled with an image of the area just outside the station. In the background was the infinite black of interstellar space, strewn with the unnumbered stars of the galaxy. But two objects nearer to the station held the Director’s attention, along with everyone else’s in the room who was not absorbed in their assigned tasks. One was a barely perceivable flickering point that one could only just keep in focus. A Warp Point. The Director stared at the ghostly flicker intently. There’s where all this will be decided. One way or the other, the course of history will change at that point, today.

The Director mulled over the tumultuous history of the past three generations that had brought them all to this place, this moment. Three generations ago, the world’s physicists had come to a startling conclusion – the fabric of space/time had loose threads. These threads, the flotsam of the Big Bang and the formation of the galaxies, were interwoven throughout the universe. And according to the calculations of the physicists, physical objects could “ride” these threads from one end to the other. Almost instantaneously, in relation to normal space/time, an object – a ship – could travel from one solar system to another. Interstellar travel – a once scoffed-at fancy of dreamers and fringe thinkers – was an actual possibility. And once the scientists had worked out what to look for, it was soon discovered that their solar system had three such threads – or “Warp Points” as they became popularly known – within its boundaries.

Once the existence of the Warp Points was established, work began quickly. Design teams from all over the world competed to draft and create the first interstellar exploration vessel. A design was selected, and after several months’ construction the EXPLORER was ready for her journey. The whole world watched, transfixed, as the EXPLORER lifted off from her construction dock, soared into space, and traveled to the nearest Warp Point. She was pulled into alignment with the Point’s axis of particle flow, just as the scientists had predicted. And with one great burst of her engines, she flew towards the Warp Point… into it…

And right through it.

Nothing happened.

Thinking of the horrific confusion that followed, the Director’s face creased with a thin smile. Governments toppled over that fiasco. The worldwide scientific community was on the verge of an intellectual civil war. Incriminations, accusations, and insults flooded the normally serene world of international scientific study. And everyone thought that the dream of interstellar travel had died. Or almost everyone.

In a few quiet corners of the world’s universities, the observation tapes of the EXPLORER’s traverse of the Warp Point were decoded and studied. Corrections were made to cosmological equations. Behind the backs of quarreling superiors, results were compared and discussed. And, finally, as the furor over the EXPLORER Project’s demise subsided, the news was broken to the world that the problem was not in the Warp Points – they were still there, quite usable and waiting to be used. The problem was with EXPLORER. What was the problem, then? Well, it seems she just wasn’t big enough to achieve the critical mass necessary to open the Warp Point. Okay, then, how big does a ship have to be, then, to be able to use a Warp Point?

One million tons.

This bit of news was not exactly welcomed by the wary governments of the world, or their overtaxed citizens. One million tons??? Why, EXPLORER had taken a worldwide cooperative effort, years to plan, months to build, and it was only one tenth that size! Why should anyone foot the bill for a probable fiasco ten times as big? Furthermore, such a monster would have to be assembled entirely in orbit - unlike EXPLORER - and that would be at tremendous cost. The furor roared to life once again, and the prospects for a second attempt at Warp Point travel did not look very good at all.

But one ambitious government official decided that the scientists should be given one last chance. Is there an economical way, asked this official, for you to demonstrate your revised calculations? Something to give us a tangible demonstration that your new calculations are correct?

Yet another individual, an amateur astronomer unrelated to the EXPLORER Project, provided the answer. This astronomer calculated that a large cometary mass would soon pass relatively near one of the outer Warp Points. It was more than large enough to set off the Point – if it could make contact. Quickly, the scientific community pooled the last of their resources, called in their last favors, and arranged for several prospecting ships to rendezvous with the comet and alter its trajectory towards the Warp Point. The audience for the arrival of the comet at Warp Point III was considerably smaller than for EXPLORER’s attempt, but all the more anxious for a success. The grey-black chunk of rock and ice tumbled toward the small flicker in space. The scientists and other observers watched in awe as the comet seemed to turn by itself, aligning with the “axis” of the Point. Then, the flicker became a huge yawning hole in space, and a great flash of energy blinded their eyesight for a brief instant.

And the next instant, the comet was gone.

Well, thought the Director, comets are one thing; this is something else entirely, as the second object in the viewscreen continued to creep towards the Warp Point. The object was a ship – a ship unlike any ever built before. VOAYGER was, as was required, ten times as big as her unlucky predecessor. One million tons. Who would have thought it necessary? Who would have thought it possible? But there she was –VOYAGER, the culmination of 20 years of research and development, 10 years of design and experimentation, and 5 years of construction. Fifteen years. Fifteen years I’ve headed this Project. Almost long enough to have raised a child. Great Maker knows it’s certainly felt like that sometimes. And now, the Director felt twinges of anxiety as the focus of fifteen years of toil, sweat and (when nobody was looking) tears moved towards its appointment with destiny.

350 meters long, 125 meters across at her stern, she looked more like a child’s mad conception of a mountain of metallic building blocks than a starship. No prize-wining artistic triumph, my VOYAGER, the Director chuckled. But since she would never purposely enter an atmosphere, aerodynamics were irrelevant to her design. She was all engines, fuel, long-term living environment for a crew complement of 5,000 – and docking space. For since she could never land on a planet (but once, and that permanently), VOYAGER was carrying an entire squadron of smaller explorer ships attached to her, like hitchhiker eels on some huge oceanic creature. These vessels would do the work of scouting, surveying and - hopefully unnecessary – defending the VOYAGER. One of these “Rider” vessels, as was constantly noted in the media, was EXPLORER herself. The Great Maker does have a sense of humor.

“Two minutes to contact, Sir,” an aide announced, barging into the Director’s reverie.

“Thank you, Commander.”

Here we go. No turning back now. The Director thought of the crew of the VOYAGER, the long years and seemingly infinite amounts of time and resources poured into this project – and the hopes of what a successful journey could mean for the world’s future. If this fails, so much would go down with it. Careers. Industries. Dreams… Great Maker, guide them…

A chorus of gasps announced that the VOYAGER was being drawn into alignment with the Warp Point’s axis. A tangible, anxious silence followed, as everyone in the control room – and everyone else who watched on their media screens “back home” – saw the VOYAGER close the final gap to the Point.

A hole opened in space.

A great flash of energy filled the viewscreen.

The flash faded.

VOYAGER was gone.

“Check the scanners,” the Director ordered, fighting to maintain a calm demeanor.

The aide punched up the scan results with trembling fingers. “Scan complete. No residual radiation remaining… no debris halo or energy blast – nothing to indicate a catastrophic failure…. Sir, it looks like they made it.”

A transponder signal received by the station moments later confirmed it. The VOYAGER had made the “jump”. The Project was a total success.

As everyone else in the control room shouted, sang, danced, laughed and cried, the Director sank into an empty chair behind the command console, and heaved a sigh of relief – a sigh with fifteen years of tension behind it, now done and gone.

They did it. They really did it. Somewhere out there, in the next star system, or maybe a galaxy halfway across the universe, the VOYAGER is starting to explore brand new worlds. And this is only the beginning. More VOYAGERS will follow. We’re finally on our way to the stars, for good. A new age has begun…

The Director paused in mid-thought, and looked at the now-faint Warp Point in the viewscreen. And finally, after fifteen years, smiled a real smile.

Clear skies, VOYAGER. And may the Great Maker speed you on your way.

Written by General Woundwort

Copyright © by the author, posted with permission.

Published on: 2004-04-14 (5722 reads)

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