In the late ‘40s of the twentieth century, Project Orion was the study of a spacecraft intended to be directly propelled by a series of explosions of atomic bombs behind the craft known as nuclear pulse propulsion. Two hundred years later these theories were revised and adapted to form plasma pulse propulsion. Now planet Earth’s resources were fast approaching depletion. Strip mining of planetary resources in the entire Sol System were predicted to be dry in the next 100 to 150 years.
Numerous reconnaissance probes, statistics gathered and samples taken by unmanned sensor drones had proven that Syndrax was suitable for teraforming. The Taris samples planted had taken root at an encouraging rate and scans confirmed they had begun creating a small but detectable amount of oxygen.
The vessel constructed was named the Orion. She had ten decks that were used for the channeling of super heated plasma that ran through the ships veins and powered the duel core translight engines. Hypothesized in the original Project Orion proposal, a human-crewed Orion, must use some sort of damping system behind the reactor core to smooth the instantaneous acceleration to a level that humans can comfortably withstand – typically about 2 to 4 g. The remainder of the ship comprised of ten decks of accessible, habitable space.
Working under the basic principles of the theory of relativity, time dilation would occur. Here passengers in this fast-moving vehicle would appear to travel further into the future while aging very little. In that their great speed slows down the rate of passage of on-board time. One year of translight flight would span five years in Earth time.
When she reached her destination, the Orion would be landed and would serve as a base of planetary operations. Due to the short half-life of the plasma, the toxicity would fall below harmfully levels in less than a decade after fuel extraction protocols had been followed. Thus freeing up more space for the growing population.
The assembled Nexus entrance Earthside would only be able to allow for passage of small, shuttle sized craft. Due to the intensity of the particles comprised there was little chance of expanding the radius. However the number of trips would theoretically be unlimited. The Nexus in orbit of Earth acted as the doorway, the ionised particles that the ship left in its wake acted as the thread, weaving the path that the wormhole will follow. The crew’s mission was to construct the exit at the destination. Travel through the nexus was almost instantaneous, the wormhole, in effect folded the space between the two nexus points.
2355: June 6
The ‘Silver Six’ as the press had dubbed them were as close to living heroes as could be. They represented humanities greatest hope for survival. As the courier shuttle pod smoothly glided through the clouds, the sun flooded the cabin. Six moral had never been higher as they stood bathed by the light, humanity’s future itself seemed secure. It seemed nothing would stop this intrepid band from achieving their goal.
2365: November 24
The lights in the make shift rec room flicked rapidly before coming to a dim rest. Scanning the room, as if that would make a difference, she made her way through a mass of debris. Overhead bulkhead cabling hung down, plasma cables and data node wiring lay bare as if the guts of the ship were exposed. Artificial gravity generators were operating at bare minimum capacity as was life support systems. Four crew members remained on the ship. The last scan before internal sensors were destroyed showed no sign of intruder. There was little doubt that the saboteur was a member of the crew.
As if by impulse, she threw out her fist, shattering the delicate display case that contained numerous commemorate awards her crew had garnered. As the blood slowly seeped and trickled to the ground she drew one deep, composing breath. The lights flickered once, twice, then darkness.
Block. Track. Drift. Repeat.
Sometimes a stray ion particle would muster the most meagre modicum of resistance. Or sometimes the tracking sensors would lag and it would, for the most spectacular nanosecond seem that there was other life out there in the dark. Just sometimes. Today, the day before that and the hundred days before that were drift. Life had become drift. Segregation in decontamination. The rest of the crew although few in number at least had each other.
The chamber was twelve by twelve foot. The mix of nutritional supplements and muscle stimulants sustained his body but he was little prepared for the effects long term solitary confinement would have on his mind. The last words he heard were his Captain inform him that a random malfunction had spliced transcom wireplexes too near containment to be repaired. He had agreed to continue bio isolation for as long as he could. Too much rested on him here. If all else failed, if was his job to reach Syndrax and initiate the portal.
Hollow projection images replaced the walls of his world. The image had glitched when the systems malfunctioned and left him marooned, adrift in the stars. A sparkling silver trail of tritostatic ion particles swept thorough the expanse between the farthest sectors of his twinkling studded starscape. Solar seismic reactions caused colliding centrino eruptions. Dazzling white flashes and shimmering purple waves flawlessly flowing through the wondrous cosmos.
I’ve swam through space for so long now I know the composition of stellar astrometrics better than the lines on my own face. My body is as light as the ionic solar particles that a beam of light are comprised of. Transient movement, slowly rising, twisting, floating, failing. I can’t remember the last time I walked. Simple bi-pedal movement seemed almost primitive now. Earths’ harsh gravity although a fleeting memory, seemed far too restrictive in nature. Little did he realise that none of the actions or commands that he had piloted were actioned.
One of his early memories was of a family outing to the city park. It seemed like a dream. A world in green and blue borders, bound with shell of gravity. It all seemed so small. So distant.
The crew had assumed drift control after the malfunction. The cube was impenetrable from the outside. Yet all it took was a six digit code from the person inside to release the hatch.
Sector 472.6 Designation Prima Aurorus.
‘Sentia, please report any and all information on the specified coordinates.’ ‘processing’…’Limited data exists on the specified. Coordinates. Discovered February 6th 2245. Professor John Almoss, Science Academy. Unknown error. Please restate command’.
The high pitched audio feedback rung in his ears. Sentia’s memory banks had suffered considerable damage in the explosion. The soft, almost eartherial tone of her voice always made him feel comfort.
‘Sentia, please reassess last scan, compiling the last 24 hours drift ratio statistics and display likely course’
‘Processing’, there it was. A steady, flashing white line weaves through the holo-starfield, leading to the heart of 462.6.
2365: June 5
BioEngineer Alice Nachiave was the youngest member of the crew at 24 years of age. What she lacked in experience, she always made sure that her intellect compensated for this. Looking around the arboretum she took mental note of the growth of the Taris Spores. After the explosion and reduction in environmental conditions, they had almost halved in production.
The discovery of the Taris Plant and its applications had gained Nacheive a place on the crew. Any lesser science officer might have missed sighting the unassuming and very similar to the ventian specimen. Apon study and experimentation, she had discovered that the resulting spores, when mixed with oxygen ignited, creating what she dubbed ‘Super Oxygen’. The beneficial practical applications became bountiful. The Taris Plants would create a pure, clean environment on the world of Syndrax. Leaving the Arboretum she made her way to the briefing room.
As Captain Helen Matheson read through the crew manifest, Lt Chalmers name caught her eye. The day that short, distorted transcom came through at 02:00hrs. In the dead of night, a nightmare she’ll never wake up from.
All of the commendations and accolades in science and translight theory hadn’t secured her place as the mission’s leader. Ten years prior, serving as Lt on a routine mission through the fire caves of Travenos III which went catastrophically wrong. The senior crew died forcing her to assume command. Her actions her saved the remaining three crew members as an expertly timed ignition of the pods plasma core, sparked and threw the escape pods clear of the fire caves and long enough for rescue craft to arrive.
As his name scrolled across the crew manifest, the decon-chamber still showed as flooded with radiation. The Lieutenant’s body could not be removed. Standing up, she took in a deep breath as she made her way through the adjoining corridor to the briefing room.
This was the first time they had assembled in over a month. They had became guarded and suspicious, fearing what act the saboteur would take next.
‘What if it’s the Captain that’s sabotaged the mission?! She’s hailed as the Fire Caves hero but who’s to say she’s not the one who caused that disaster in the first place?!’ The outburst hung in the air as Nachiave reconfigured the holo projector, a blurred 3D image of the sector appeared, suspended over the briefing table, she continued, ‘Why the hell are we wasting time. The only one of us with the technical knowledge go cripple the ship the way that it is would be Trenton!’
‘Just because I can build an engine doesn’t make me the only one capable of blowing one up. You have a distinction in bio chemistry, I think that would imply that you’re more than capable of cobbling together a plasma bomb’
Trenton stopped as the captain entered the briefing room and took her seat at the head of the table. The constant hum of the environmental controls seemed noticeably louder as they waited for her to speak.
‘The damage sustained in the explosion took out the secondary translight engine, luckily the breach was contained before primary damage was sustained. ‘
‘With the reduction in speed, our new ETA and Syndrax will be 2371, an additional 5 years longer than planned, ship time’
‘Cut rationing of nutritional supplements should see us through, however’, Nachiave paused as she took a drink of her protein tonic, shooting Trenton a look she continued, ‘That’s assuming people don’t help themselves to supplies whenever they feel like it.’
‘There’s a saboteur onboard that almost killed us all and doomed the entire human race. I think that puts my taking a packet of nutrigram into perspective’, said Trenton.
‘So we make up the rules as we go along? Airlock the rule book and break the chain of command? Where do we draw the line?’, medic Alan Sheppard joined in. His quiet nature ensured he only joined in when he had a strong opinion to offer.
‘Everything change day Chalmers died. It’s every man for himself now’, said Nachiave.
‘So what do we do with them, once we find out who the saboteur is?’, asked Sheppard.
‘I say we airlock the son of a bitch along with your rulebook and don’t say another word about it’, as Nachiave spoke, the Captain slowly rose from her seat.
‘Everybody in this room has skills that make them invaluable to this mission. We don’t have the luxury of holding an inquest or thorough forensic examination. We have no choice but to get on with the mission’, with that, the Captain left the briefing room.
‘Yeah and sleep with one eye opened because someone in this room wouldn’t think twice about stabbing you in your sleep’, said Nachiave as she swiped off the holo-projection.
‘Sentia. Please establish communication with the command crew’, the weight of his voice made his heart sink, ‘with anyone’.
‘Unable to perform command. External communication node error’
‘Thank you Sentia… Thank you for trying again.’