Stargazers by P.J. Lowry
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It was a time for mourning. He just wasn’t up to the task. When someone dies, it doesn’t change who they were. So when people started to tell others what a great man the deceased was, it angered Eric. It angered him a lot. His father was a drunk, a mean one. He didn’t feel sad that the old man was dead, quite the contrary. His father was abusive, to both him and his siblings. No one wanted to say anything about it, and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Everyone kept telling him all day, if you have nothing nice to say, keep it to yourself. He wasn’t in the mood to keep anything to himself, because to do so would be a disservice to both himself and the people his father hurt over the years. Eric didn’t feel like crying, he was ready to pop the Champaign and get the party started. Ding dong... this fat bastard is finally dead!
It was a time for mourning. He just wasn’t up to the task. When someone dies, it doesn’t change who they were. So when people started to tell others what a great man the deceased was, it angered Eric. It angered him a lot. His father was a drunk, a mean one. He didn’t feel sad that the old man was dead, quite the contrary. His father was abusive, to both him and his siblings. No one wanted to say anything about it, and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Everyone kept telling him all day, if you have nothing nice to say, keep it to yourself. He wasn’t in the mood to keep anything to himself, because to do so would be a disservice to both himself and the people his father hurt over the years. Eric didn’t feel like crying, he was ready to pop the Champaign and get the party started. Ding dong... this fat bastard is finally dead!
It was what he was thinking, but not what he said that day.
Instead Eric sat there and listened to everyone else sing praises for a man who didn’t deserve them. He wasn’t a good man. He wasn’t even a nice one. Yet that didn’t stop people from standing up there and saying he was. His mother was the worst of them all. His father beat her every day, sometimes for no reason at all. If supper wasn’t ready on time, he’d beat her. If he got an F in English, it was her fault and she was beaten for it. Forget the fact that it just one bad test that he didn’t study for, it was her fault for not making him study. For her to stand up there and sing his praises was enough to make want to vomit. Yet the truth was his father was the love of her life. Regardless of what kind of drunken abusive bastard he was, she still loved him and the man who was the father of her children. After all the abuse, she still loved him. She was the victim but she refused to leave his side. Even when it was over, Eric could respect her dedication to the man. He sat there and wondered if there was someone out there that would do that for him. Stand by him even when he’s 100% wrong. But that wasn’t what Eric wanted. He didn’t want to marry a yes man or woman. He wanted to be with someone who loved him enough to point out his faults and told him the truth. Turns out it’s even harder to find that out there. Eric was aware of that and was at the point where he was ready to give up the search.
As he was walking out of the church, all Eric wanted was a bar. He needed to drown his sorrows at the bottom of a bottle of tequila. And while the old man would likely find that rather amusing, Eric really couldn’t give a shit what he thought. This was his way of mourning the loss of a man that the world would be better without.
This is when she approached him.
“Doctor Saunders?” the young lady said as she approached him.
“Who wants to know?” Eric asked.
“Samantha Jones,” the young woman said, extending a hand for him to shake.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of your company, Ms. Jones?” Eric asked.
“I work for the space program.” She replied.
“You mean what’s left of it,” Eric corrected her. “Why did they send you to my father’s funeral?”
“You haven’t been returning our calls.” Samantha answered.
“No, I haven’t.” Eric confirmed, “And for good reason.”
“We need your help.” she informed him, “Your government needs you.”
“Where were they when I needed them?” Eric asked, “It was nice of them to help themselves to my patents like a kid in a candy store. Don’t expect me to be happy about that. They had no right to pillage my intellectual property.”
“This is different.” Samantha informed him.
Eric paused for a moment. “How so?”
“We’re almost there.” She told him. “We’ve been doing tests.”
“Tests?” Eric asked, walking closer. “What kind of tests?”
“I can’t tell you,” Samantha replied, “It’s classified.”
“Of course it is.” Eric said as he turned to walk away. “I’m going to a bar to mourn the loss of a man who drank himself to death. Come back to me when I’m in a better mood and more likely to give a shit.”
“Where can we find you?” she called out.
“If things go as well as expected, later tonight in the county drunk tank.” Eric called back as he stepped into the black car that was waiting for him. He looked in rear view mirror and watched as Samantha walked away. She seemed to be bummed out that he wasn’t willing to speak with her. It was low of her to show up at a funeral of all places to approach him but he understood it was her only chance. He wasn’t returning anyone’s calls and this was the first time he was out of the house in over a month. She saw a chance to speak to him and took it... that kind of ambition deserved to be rewarded rather than scolded. Eric also didn’t like to drink alone so when his curiosity got the best of him, he decided to do something about it. He drove up to where Samantha was walking and pulled up beside her and rolled down the window.
“What kind of testing?” he asked her.
“Real testing,” she answered, “We could be travelling in a matter of years instead of decades. It could be months if we had someone like you helping us out.”
“Get in.” Eric told her.
“Excuse me?” Samantha replied, somewhat confused.
“I am going to a bar to get drunk.” Eric replied, “That part hasn’t changed but you’re coming with me. I want to know more about what you guys are doing.”
“Are you serious?” she asked, somewhat excited.
“I am,” Eric said as he unlocked the door, “Get in.”
“All right,” Samantha said as she walked over to the other side and stepped inside. She wasn’t worried about her safety. She had a tazer in her purse so if he tried anything, drunk or sober, she would zap him so hard that he’s pee himself. She was eager to speak to him, especially since this machine was his design. A chance to pick his brain about the machine was just the break she was looking for. If she had to drain a few shooters with the doctor to get the answers she wanted, it was a small price to pay. Something that she had no doubt the top brass would approve of. There was just too much at stake to not take that chance.
Despite his urge to want to get completely shitfaced, Eric was resisting the temptation to take care of business the way his old man used to. He sat there with a few long necks, eager to hear what the young woman had to say. Samantha was an attractive looking woman, but she didn’t tickle Eric’s fancy. She was far too young for his consideration. When looking for an ideal mate, Eric was more interested in someone his own age. He wanted someone to hang out with that wouldn’t make him feel like he was babysitting. He had a rule that he would never date someone that was more than five years younger or five years older than himself. Since he was born in the middle of a decade, that meant he would only date people who were born within the same decade he was, which made the math easier for him. Samantha looked to be at least twenty years his junior, possibly thirty. Far too young for his liking, that was for sure but she wasn’t in the bar to be his date. She was there on business and based on the tone in her voice, Eric could tell it was something serious that demanded his immediate attention.
“Well, let’s have it then.” Eric told her.
“Excuse me?” Samantha asked, as she was somewhat distracted.
“You said this was important,” Eric said, growing rather impatient, “Spill your guts and let’s hash it out.”
“I can’t.” Samantha replied, “It’s classified. You can’t be told what’s going on unless you’ve been given the highest clearance.”
“So that’s the line you’re going to take,” Eric said, feeling kind of cheated, “So basically I won’t be told anything about this testing until I agree to some sort of confidentiality? Right?”
“Pretty much,” Samantha confirmed.
“Shit,” Eric said, taking another slug from his long neck, “So if I agree to this, when will I get briefed on the situation?”
“We can take you to a private location for briefing now.” Samantha suggested.
“No, not today,” Eric said as he raised his bottle, “Tonight I’m going to get seriously smashed, in honor of the old man. Do you know where I live?”
“Yes,” Samantha replied, “I have your current address.”
“Then pick me up tomorrow, at noon.” Eric ordered, “Bring two coffees, both with two sugars and two milk. Then we’ll go in for a briefing.”
“Seriously?” Samantha said as she could hardly believe it.
“You should be able to clear me by then,” Eric said, nodding to her, “Whatever is bugging you, it can wait until tomorrow.”
“Yes, Sir,” Samantha said, standing up to leave, “I’ll make sure your clearance is ready for tomorrow’s briefing.”
“Excellent,” Eric said, “Now piss off.”
Samantha was tempted to toss something at Eric, but good judgement got the best of her. She stormed out of the bar, huffing in disgust as she walked out the door and slamming it behind her. The entire bar was amused by the display but quickly shrugged it off when they realized whom she had left behind.
“You all right, Dr. Saunders?” the bartender called out.
“I will be,” Eric replied as he gestured to the table, “When you bring some shots out here for me.”
“Coming right up, mate!” the bartender called out.
Eric spent the better part of the night drinking anything he could get his hands on. People in the bar were buying him drinks to help the mourning process, and when it was all said and done, Eric was too wasted to get home by himself. The bartender ordered him a cab and carried the doctor out to the yellow car when it finally arrived. The bartender gave him a twenty and told the driver where to go. He turned to Eric after putting him in the back.
“Sorry for your loss, Eric,” The bartender told him.
“I’m not,” Eric confessed, “Not one fucking bit. Goodnight, Aaron.”
“Good night, dickwad.” Aaron said, closing the door. He stood there at the sidewalk and watched as the cab rolled out of sight before returning to announce last call. It was soon going to be closing time.
Once back in his bed, Eric slept until ten in the morning, and woke up with the most severe hangover he’s had in almost a decade. His head felt like a drum set that was being wailed on by the member of a fierce metal band. As he strolled into the bathroom, he quickly took two Tylenols before hopping into the shower. He stood there in the hot water, clearing his head while trying to think about what he could remember from the day before. Thankfully the previous night wasn’t a complete blank, which meant he remembered his brief conversation with Samantha Jones. Her name sounded like a character out of a cheesy movie, but he remembered that she would be coming by with a car at noon to pick him up for the briefing. Once out of the shower, Eric dressed in blue jeans and a sweat shirt that he pulled the sleeves up on. If this meeting was half as important as Samantha believed it to be, no one was going to care how formal the doctor was dressed. After tossing on some socks and his sneakers, Eric ran downstairs to cook something quick for breakfast. After having a few fried eggs and a piece of toast, Eric heard a horn honking outside. This let him know that his ride had arrived and it was time to find out what the hoopla was about. They wouldn’t be outside if he hasn’t been given clearance. After cleaning up, Dr. Saunders strolled out of the house and over to the car that was waiting. As he slipped into the back seat, Samantha was back there, holding two large coffees.
“Thank you,” Eric said, taking the first coffee from her.
“You’re welcome,” Samantha replied, “How are you feeling?”
“Bette than expected,” Eric replied, holding up his coffee, “Cheers.”
“Glad to be of service,” Samantha said before turning to the driver, “Get us back to base, right now.”
“Yes Ma’am,” The driver replied, pulling the car away from the curb.
“Can we now discuss the classified issue?” Eric asked.
“Not yet,” Samantha replied, “You have to sign no-disclosures before we can tell you what’s going on.”
“What happens if I talk?” Eric said, teasing her, “I’ll get sued?”
“No,” Ms. Jones replied, “You’ll be declared an enemy combatant and sent to Cuba, where you would spend the rest of your days at Camp X-Ray.”
“Are you serious?” Eric asked her, surprised.
“As a heart attack,” Samantha confirmed.
The car was silent for the remainder of the ride to base. Once the car had arrived to the airbase, there were several military officers waiting for them outside. Once the car came to a stop, they all saluted as Eric stepped out of the car.
“Is that necessary,” Eric asked, “I’m just a civilian.”
“Sorry, Sir.” One of the officers said as he put his hand down, “I’m Sergeant Drummond. I’ll be your liaison while working here for the air force. We need you to sign some significant paper work and then we can let you in on what’s going on.”
“Alright,” Dr. Saunders said, realizing how seriously everyone was taking it, “Let’s get inside and get this over with.”
The other officers followed as Saunders followed Drummond into a large conference room inside the building. Once in there, Eric spent the better part of an hour reading and signing several non-disclosure agreements. Once the ink was finally drying on the last document, it was time for full disclosure.
“No more delays,” Eric said, clearly losing his patience, “Someone want to finally tell me what the hell is going on?”
“I’ll do one better,” Drummond said as he turned on a projector, “I’ll show you.”
Eric stood there and looked at the space picture. “What are we looking at?”
“An asteroid,” Samantha informed him, “We call it PX-256.”
“Why are you showing me this?” Eric asked.
“This asteroid is heading right for us,” Drummond said, turning to face the doctor and look him in the eyes. “This is why you’re here. We need you to help us save the human race.”
Eric looked at the projection and sighed, “No pressure.”
Eric stood there and soaked in what he was being shown. He was confident that the data he was being given was highly classified. If the public knew about this incoming asteroid, there’d be panic in the streets. Every end of the world nut ball would be digging out new shelters in their back yards, getting ready to survive the end of the world. Any effort they made would be futile. Eric could tell by the size and density of the rock, it would wipe out all life on Earth. It was a planet killer, something Eric had no doubt about. That guy with the sign downtown was right; the end was nigh. Billion of people were going to die and odds are there was nothing any of them in the room could do about it. Eric took a deep breath because he knew that the people in the room were not going to give up without trying first. They had brought him in to help them, because they had an idea they thought he could help them out with.
“What’s the plan?” Eric suddenly asked.
“Direct,” Drummond said, respecting his approach. “I like that.”
“Just answer the question,” Eric insisted, “Please.”
“Does he have clearance?” Samantha asked.
“He does as of two hours ago,” Sergeant Drummond answered, “Located at this facility is one of several international think tanks. This is a joint operation with over a dozen countries that are working together to deal with the problem presented by the asteroid known as PX-256, which is expected to impact with our plant up to two years from now based on its current projections. We are running out of time, and we need your help to make these engines operational.”
“I see,” Eric said, “Might as well call on the inventor when you need something modified and upsized, right?”
“Precisely,” Drummond concurred, “We need engines big enough to move large space vessel’s carrying extremely heavy payloads a great distance.”
“Are you going to carry some nukes up there and split that rock right in half like they did on Armageddon, right?” Eric asked.
“No,” Samantha replied, “I don’t even think that plan is even possible.”
“We’re not going to carry nukes to the asteroid,” Drummond informed him, “The issue of planetary defense was given to another think tank. Each one has assembled some of the brightest minds in specific fields to deal with the extinction level event, each having their own directive, a different plan to try.”
“So instead of pooling all their resources into one idea,” Eric said, trying to see where this was going, “There are several tanks made to take several kicks at the bucket in case the others fail?
“Pretty much,” Drummond said as he paced the room, “We’ve been given a specific assignment, one of the most important in my opinion.”
“So which plan are you guys in charge of here?” Eric asked.
“Evacuation,” Drummond answered, “Our job is to get as many humans relocated to a new planet before the asteroid arrives.”
“I see,” Eric said, looking back at the board where he could see his blueprints for his engines. “You need me to fix my engines to make them useful for interplanetary travel, to move mankind to a new rock?”
“Yes,” Samantha confirmed, “This is our last resort in the event that all the other plans to stop the asteroid fail.”
“What planet were you thinking of?” Eric asked.
“Mars.” Drummond replied, “It’s the closest and it has water.”
“But no air.” Eric reminded him.
“We have people working on that,” Drummond informed him, “And they’re making great progress. The water is the key, as long as we have that we can generate our own supply of oxygen. But the key is getting all the equipment and construction crews over there to build it.”
“This is insane!” Eric said as he waved his arms about like a mad man. “The project you’re proposing could cost hundreds of billions of dollars!”
“We’ve been given a budget of two and a half trillion.” Drummond replied.
“Two... trillion?” Eric repeated, having trouble repeating the last one.
“And a half,” Samantha added.
“Various governments around the world have overdrawn their budgets,” the Sergeant explained, “When these numbers are made public, it will out the truth about PX-256.”
“And that’s when it will all hit the fan, right?” Eric asked.
“Yes,” Drummond confirmed, “We have about a year until that happens. What we need is ships read and in orbit, delivering cargo as soon as possible.”
“What are we going to use for our power supply?” Eric asked.
“I was thinking nuclear.” Samantha said, stepping back in, “Once on Mars we’ll obviously use solar and wind but we’ll keep one reactor there for backup.”
“Or on the ships if you continue to use them for space travel,” Eric offered.
“That might not be an option,” Drummond honest answered, “We might need to save all resources to surviving on Mars.”
“We’ve never sent anyone there to visit,” Eric said, thinking about it, “What makes you event think this could work?”
“It might not,” Samantha answered, “But it beats doing nothing and waiting for the end to come to us.”
“So while I work on these engines...” Eric continued, “You’re going to have other people working on the other parts of this problem?”
“Exactly,” Drummond confirmed, “Your only problem is transport. We’ve got other people taking care of the other issues. Just get us up there and we’ll take care of the rest.”
Eric paused for a moment and deeply sighed. “How many transports to you need to move all this stuff?”
“Five,” Samantha answered. “Four for construction materials and supplies and we’d like one specifically for moving humans off world.”
“How many people will that ship be able to transport?” Eric inquired.
“We are looking at about ten to fifteen thousand per trip.” Samantha answered, and we’re hoping to do as many as one trip every month until the asteroid gets here.”
“So if we move quickly enough,” Drummond continued, “We could get as many as a hundred thousand up there before disaster strikes. That would give us a healthy chance to survive on Earth.”
“How would we feed all those people?” Eric asked.
“Not your problem,” Drummond replied, “We have botanists and other scientists in similar fields assigned to take care of that. Your job is to get the engines going so we can start moving shit to our new location. How soon can you get these engines online and attached to the spacecrafts we’re constructing?”
Eric scratched his two day old scruff as he walked up to the board and looked at the blueprints of the ships. If his engines worked, they could do Mars in a month like Samantha said they would. He stood there, looking at the measurements of the ships and the sheer size of the engines he would have to make for them. “If I start working now, I can have one ship completed every three months.”
“How long would it take if we doubled your on site engineers and worked on these around the clock?” Drummond asked.
“One per month,” Eric answered, aware of how crazy it sounded. “But these ships alone would eat away at least a third of your budget.”
“It’s necessary,” Drummond explained, “Without the ships everything else is not going anywhere. No point packing if you don’t have a moving truck.”
“Good point,” Eric said, “So when do you want me to start?”
Drummond smiled, “What time is it now?”
Eric sighed, “I was afraid you were going to say that. But I’m going to need some conditions before I start working.”
“Name them,” Drummond asked, ready to approve almost anything.
“I want my people running this project, the people I trust to make sure it’s all done right and by the book.” Eric demanded, “The last thing you want is the moving truck to break down halfway to the new home.”
“Agreed,” Drummond said, without hesitation, “Anything else?”
“My family,” Eric added, “I may not get along with the ex and the kids don’t want to talk to me, but they and twenty-five other people of my choosing get free tickets to Mars if they want them. If I’m going to save a hundred thousand people, I want them to be a part of that group.”
“Deal,” Drummond said, extending his hand to Eric, “Welcome to the Stargazer project, Doctor Saunders.”
Doctor Eric Saunders wasn’t the most productive worker in the world, but when he put his all behind a project you got nothing short of his best effort. His incentive was the survival of the human race, and it was a goal that he took very seriously. Once he joined the Stargazer project, to the outside world, Eric Saunders ceased to exist. He lived on the site twenty-four hours a day, seven days per week. He made a cot in his office and even moved a bureau in there to hold his clothing. He would occasionally crash on the cot in his office for six hours at a time before getting back up, showing and then going back to work for another twenty hours. He had made a promise to deliver ships within a month and he was not going to miss his deadline. What surprised everyone the most was the fact that he stopped drinking the day he came onboard the project. Not a drop of the sauce since the old man’s funeral. Eric was sure there’d be plenty of time for drinking after the work was finished. He would ship a case of crown royal to the red planet just to make sure there was something good to wash down their struggles with. After seven long months of hard work and brutal round the clock hours with thousands of engineer, three of the Stargazer Spacecrafts were completed. These ships were already half completed when they stumbled into issues with the engines. This is where Eric came in and while he worked hard to make sure the engines were tip top, the rest of the vessels were fully constructed. Drummond didn’t expect Saunders to be so hands on, but he was there every day on the site working with engineers on the engines and making sure they were ready for launch whenever that would be necessary. Eric was determined to keep his word and as long as the rest of the ship was ready to go, it would be air worthy within a few months as promised. It was coming along nicely and Eric occasionally took the time to look back and adore the sheer size of the massive space craft.
“Damn,” he muttered to himself, “This is a big bitch.”
“It’s almost twice the size of our biggest aircraft carrier,” one of the techs working near him mentioned, “They’re going to take a handful of us along, just in case something breaks. They’re looking for volunteers to go and even stay on Mars.”
“Are you going?” Eric asked the man.
“I’m not sure,” the tech replied, “I’m nervous about starting life on a planet that doesn’t look very hospitable.”
“Once these engines are done, I’m going up there with the first human transport.” Eric told him, “I’m going to try to make as many trips as I can to make sure as much supplies and materials get there to improve our chances of success.”
“I don’t even know how we intend to breathe up there,” The tech wondered.
“Great minds are working on that issue,” Eric reminded him, “Let’s just stick to our own issue and get these beasts in the sky. This ship needs to be finished on time or it’s my ass on the line. This ship is going to be carrying the most sensitive cargo of them all, which is why it’s the biggest.”
“What is that?” the tech asked.
“Mankind,” Eric answered, “Our last chance to survive this disaster. So let’s get back to work so we can make our deadlines.”
“Yes, Doctor Saunders.” The tech replied as he went back to work.
There was nothing more said between the tech as they all furiously went back to work on what was mankind’s last hope. Eric had gone back to his own obsessions until someone came into the massive hanger and called for him on a loudspeaker.
“Dr. Saunders.” The man loudly called out.
“What is it?” he called back.
“Your daughter is here.” he replied.
Eric removed himself from his work and the massive ship he was working on for something either than sleep and food for the first time in weeks. As he walked out of the construction zone, he peeled off his work equipment, his jumpsuit and quickly changed into something more casual, like jeans and a white t-shirt. He cleaned up his face and brushed his teeth in the bathroom before finally strolling beyond the secured zone and into the lobby which was open to the public. When he saw his oldest child out there, he had to pause for a moment. He couldn’t believe how mature she looked for her age. She had only been in college a few years but she looked so beautiful.
“Hey kiddo!” Eric said as he put on a smile for her, “It’s great to see you!”
“Dad,” the young woman replied, gesturing to the officers in the room, “Why did these feds pull me off campus?”
“Because I asked them to,” Eric answered, “I’m really sorry Jessica, but I need to speak with you.”
“They work for you?” she asked him.
“They work for the project,” Eric said to her, “And I’m one of the heads of this particular project.”
“Is this where you’ve been for the last year?” she asked him, “We actually thought you were dead for a while.”
“And I’m sorry about that,” Eric said, “Sometimes when I find the right project, I lose myself in it and this one has a very tight deadline.”
“What are you working on?” Jessica asked him.
“I’d like to tell you, but I can’t out here.” Eric said, gesturing to the doors, “We need to find somewhere more secure to discuss this.”
Jessica seemed a little startled by the request but since it was her father she followed him into the more secure part of the facility. Rather than take her into any room where she could see what they were working on, he led her into a small room with a couch and no windows.
“This is a little creepy.” Jessica said as she sat down.
“Look, what I am about to tell you is classified.” Eric said as he grabbed a small chair and sat across from her, “In three months, the President is going to address Congress and the nation about it, but I’ve been authorized to tell you today. If you can keep it to yourself for that long, we can discuss your new living arrangements.”
“My new living arrangements,” Jessica repeated, “What are you talking about?”
“To put it bluntly, I’m moving away.” Eric replied, which was pretty much true considering the circumstances, “The people in charge of this project have allowed me the right to invite a few people to come with me and share in the adventure.”
“What adventure?” Jessica asked, “What are you talking about.”
Eric paused for a moment and scratched his scruff. “Do you remember what I said to you when I was making that energy based engine in the garage?”
“You said that the engine would be the future of space travel,” Jessica answered, as if it was yesterday, “You said that if your engine was successful, it would take us all to the stars.”
“And I made a promise to you that day,” Eric said, “What did I promise you that day in the garage?”
“That if you ever went into space,” Jessica recalled, “That you would let me fly with you into the stars...”
“That’s why you’re here,” Eric said as he stood up and offered his hand to her, “I’m here to keep my promise.”
She took his hand and he led her through the secure check points and into the massive hanger where the spacecraft was being constructed.
“Oh my gaud!” Jessica said as she looked at the ship, “Are those your engines!”
“Yes,” Eric said, beaming with pride, “Six months from now, this ship is going to be in space, transporting a precious cargo to another planet.”
His daughter looked back at him. “Where is it going?”
Eric smiled, “Mars.”
“I can’t believe it!” Jessica said as she was so proud of her father, “Your engines are going to take people to Mars?”
“Yes,” Eric confirmed, “Our first off world colony. I’ll be leaving with this ship and I was wondering if you wanted to come along.”
“You’re going to Mars?” Jessica said, as she could hardly believe it.
“I am,” Eric said, “And so can you if you’d like to keep me company.”
“What about mom?” Jessica asked.
“She’ll be fine here.” Eric lied.
“Why are you telling me now?” Jessica asked.
“All passengers are being taken for testing right now,” Eric informed her, “By the time the president makes his announcement, all the colonists will be selected and already to lift off. A lot of people will not be happy about the lack of transparency but this is the way it has to be to avoid issues.”
“How many people are going?” Jessica asked, as she looked at the massive craft in awe.”
“This thing can hold as many as fifty thousand in a pinch,” Eric replied, “But we’re going to settle for a comfortable twenty-five thousand.” The rest of the space will be used for extra rations and other stuff we might need to take along.”
“What is it called?” his child asked, curious about its title.
“A lot of techs wanted to call it Enterprise,” Eric replied, “But I chose a name that was very fitting for it: The Elpis.”
Jessica looked back at him, “Why did you call it that?”
“Elpis is from Greek Mythology,” Eric told her, “She was the last spirit to remain in the jar after Pandora unleashed the evils that were in it. She is to the Greeks the very personification of hope.”
“I like it,” Jessica said as she looked back at the ship, unaware that its name was fitting as it going to be the last ship to leave Earth, possibly before it would be destroyed by a massive asteroid; mankind’s last hope riding on the shoulders of Elpis.
“So are you in?” Eric asked her.
Jessica leaned over and hugged her father. “I’ll drop out of school tomorrow.”
“That’s my girl,” Eric said as he squeezed her tight, “This might not be a cake walk, but I can assure you this... the voyage won’t be boring.”
“I’ll bring my I-pad just in case.” She replied.
When the President of the United States made his national address, as expected the world was stunned beyond belief. This seemed like something out of a movie: an asteroid heading for the planet, a possible extinction level event and the government using all its resources to stop it. While making his address, the President also told them that many nations all had plans going forth. There were backups to their backups and that humanity would hold nothing back in their attempts to stop the incoming disaster. The people’s response was a lot lighter than earlier expected. Many of the people refused to believe it was true and thought it was a sick joke, while many others cried themselves to sleep thinking the world would be over in a matter of months. There were no major riots, but once it all sunk in police forces were expecting them. It seemed like the world was suffering from the first stage of grief; denial. They refused to think that the world was going to end, and chose to instead fight. The government opened a bond program, not much different from war bonds, offering the people a chance to donate money to the extreme budgets of the programs that were in place to stop the asteroid. Much to everyone’s surprise, the money was flowing in as people wanted to save their nation, the world, and especially their own ass from being wiped from existence. People around the world were using up all their savings, hoping that it might be enough to save their children’s future, but giving up their own.
Eric Saunders wasn’t as impressed with the national address, but he kept his thoughts to himself for the time being. At that moment, his goal was to get his house in order before Drummond returned a week after the address. He seemed happy when he walked in but that would soon change.
“Is there something wrong, Dr. Saunders?” he quickly asked.
“Just a bit,” Eric replied, “There were a few things missing from that address. When does the President intend to reveal the Stargazer project?”
“Later.” Drummond answered.
“Six weeks from now,” Drummond said with a sigh, “A week after the last ship leaves orbit.”
“The people will take that well,” Eric said, as he could hardly believe what he was hearing. “How do you think the people are going to respond when they find out that the last ride to safety left without them? They are going to be pissed when they find out that they were never even considered to become a passenger.”
“I don’t care what they think,” Drummond honestly replied, “And at this point neither does the President.”
“I guess not,” Eric said, resisting the urge to toss a chair at him. “I’m sure you both feel terrible when your rooms are already booked.”
“The President isn’t going,” Drummond replied, “And neither am I.”
“You’re not?” Eric said, dumbfounded by the comment.
“No,” Drummond confirmed, “My Commander in Chief has chosen to remain with his sinking ship. As a member of the US Army, my place is by his side as he bravely faces the asteroid with the rest of the country.”
“I had no idea,” Eric said, “Are you sure about that?”
“Not really,” Drummond confessed, “But the President is confident that our plans to stop the asteroid will work. So much so that he’s turned down his ticket for Mars. He’s not the guy to cut and run, and I admire him for it.”
“So who is going to be in charge of the Stargazer program?” Eric asked.
“We are going to send a four Star General and he will co-ordinate the situation with one hand picked civilian.” Drummond explained, “The President wants that civilian to be you, Doctor Saunders.”
“Me?” Eric replied, “Has this guy lost his marbles?”
“Your knowledge of the engines makes you the perfect person,” Drummond continued, “Your voice must be heard, because the engines will make the difference between success or failure for the Stargazer program.”
“Alright,” Eric said, despite this being more responsibility than he wanted to take on. The thought of the military being in charge of the Stargazer project entirely was enough to make him want to sign on. “I’ll do it, but this General better not be a hot head that wants everything his way or the highway. It has to be someone I can reason with and make compromises or it won’t work.”
“I’ll tell the President,” Drummond said, “Get the last two ships ready to fly. You have two weeks to get them up there.”
“Acknowledged,” Eric replied. He then stood there for a moment and paused while he was hesitating to say something.
“Is there something else?” Drummond asked.
“There is,” Eric said, as he reached into his pocket and pulled out am small piece of paper. “There are fifty names on this list. I want them all to be on the last ship leaving with me and my daughter.”
Drummond took the paper and scanned the list. “Who are these people?”
“I made a lot of calls to the best schools around the country,” Eric answered, “Some of these people are kids that have the potential to be geniuses. Many of them come from schools like M.I.T. and it’s my hope that one of them will step up and eventually become my replacement. Someone I can teach everything I know about the engines because despite my best efforts, I’m not going to live forever.”
“Why so many?” Drummond asked, “Wouldn’t one or two do the trick?”
“I’m hedging my bets,” Eric answered, “A lot can happen between here and Mars. A few of those are also personal but also necessary to the success to this mission.”
Drummond stood there and continued to look over the list. “One of these guys is a famous Chef!”
“If anyone can make the rations and eventual food we grow on Mars taste good, it’ll be him.” Eric replied, “The last thing we want is the Stargazer mission to fail because of riots caused by bad food.”
“You are seriously pushing your luck here,” Drummond said.
“I know, but these will help us.” Eric continued, “Besides my daughter, I haven’t asked for anything. I haven’t even accepted a salary! I’ve been doing all this for kicks and the chance to save the human race just in case all else fails. This colony is going to be a logistical nightmare, so the more professionals we have out there, the better chance we have of surviving.”
“Alright,” Drummond said, as he folded up the piece of paper and put it into his pocket. “I’ll get them all onboard, but I have a condition of my own.”
“Name it,” Eric replied without hesitation.
Drummond reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He opened it up and handed a small photo to Eric. It was a young boy, no more than six years old.
“Who’s this?” Eric asked.
“My son,” Drummond answered, “His name is Gabriel.”
“You want me to take him and his mother onboard?” Eric asked.
“That would be nice,” Drummond said, smiling, “But it’s not possible. His mother died two years ago; breast cancer.”
“I’m sorry,” Eric said, realizing what was being asked of him. “You want me to take him?”
“Yes,” Drummond replied, “We already approved your daughter, so I’ve submitted Gabriel as your nephew. If command realized what I was doing, the chain would break down and other military personal would try to get their family onboard. I need you take him and get him out of here.”
“Alright,” Eric said, patting Drummond’s shoulder with his hand, “I’ll take care of him as if he were my own. Jessica and I will take care of him. He’ll be safe.”
“Thank you,” Drummond said, wiping a tear away.
“Get that list approved,” Eric said, using whatever leverage he had.
“Consider it done,” Drummond replied, “Just have those ships in orbit as soon as you humanly can. We can only hold this story for so long. If this leaks, the riots and people trying to get onboard will be overwhelming.”
“It’s already done.” Eric informed him, “Get me my people and your son onboard and we’ll launch within the next day or two.”
Drummond had a look of surprise on his face. “What are you talking about?”
Eric smiled as the cat was not out of the bag. “I’ve been less than honest with you and the government about the progress of the project.”
“Are you serious?” Drummond asked.
“Like a heart attack,” Eric answered, “Stargazer One left orbit two months ago.”
“You’ve already launched?” Drummond said, shocked.
“We left in the dead of night.” Eric replied, “An advantage of working in the desert, no one can see a rocket flying into space, and even if they did we had people to prevent it from going online.”
“Where’s Stargazer One now?” Drummond asked.
“About halfway to Mars,” Eric replied, “Their head start will make it easier for the other ships to settle in. Construction of the colony will be twenty percent complete by the time Stargazer Two and Three arrive, which left three weeks ago. Four and Five will launch tonight after the sun goes down. The last ship, which is The Elpis, will leave when your son and my people are all onboard.”
“But ... how?” Drummond asked as he suddenly began to realize that Eric had been given way too much power of the project.
“I doubled the staff once I realized the President was keeping our project under wraps.” Eric answered, “We’ve been working around the clock with double the staff for weeks. Get your son packed and back here as soon as possible. Once those people on my list and your son are here, I intend to launch as soon as possible.”
“You did all this without consulting us or the President?” Drummond asked.
“You said it yourself; this could leak at any time.” Eric replied, “Getting those ships in the air and away from the people and the riots was priority number one. The success of this mission is vital to the survival of the human race. I didn’t have time to ask for permission, and I think you know why.”
Drummond paused to collect his thoughts. “How much time do I have to get my son onboard?”
“You have twenty-four hours,” Eric answered, “Since the Elpis is the last of the Stargazer fleet, launching at night will not be necessary. Will give the people quite a show, don’t you think?”
“As much as I want to punch you in the face,” Drummond said as he was doing everything to control his anger, “I have to admit that your actions may have improved the odds of this mission succeeding.”
“You have no idea,” Eric confirmed.
“What the hell does that mean?” Drummond asked, scared of what else he might not be aware of.
“No time,” Eric said as he tapped his watch, “Go get Gabriel, and I mean now.”
Drummond wanted to say something else, but Eric was right. He bolted from the room and to the car waiting outside. He would get more answers from Saunders when he returned with Gabriel. Lucky for him, Drummond had been packing his son’s things for more than a few days. All he had to do was pick the stuff up and bring it back with his son for Eric to take over. He had no time to talk to the President, choosing to remain silent until The Elpis and his son were in orbit.
It took the military twelve hours to find the people on Eric’s list, and while some of them refused to come along, most of them were okay with the suggestion of safety from the asteroid. When it was all said and done, the last person they were waiting for was Drummond’s son. The Sergeant skipped the main building and drove his car right up to the hangar where The Elpis was already starting to hum its engines. It was a clear Friday afternoon, the skies were clear and you couldn’t have asked for a better day to launch into space. People for hundreds of miles were go0ing to see something spectacular and record it on their cell phones, which would in turn put the White House on the hot seat not only with the media and the people, but other nation as well. Only American and Canadians were supposed to be allowed on board any of the Stargazer ships, but Eric took that more as a suggestion than an actual order. He had several engineers and their families from Japan, South Korea and even the United Kingdom. He was mum about this, but Eric was sure he was going to need as many techs on Mars as he could possibly spare. He was never the kind of guy to put all his eggs into one basket, so he made sure that each ship had the same number of engineers onboard so if one of them didn’t make it, they wouldn’t be shit out of luck on the red planet without someone to fix stuff when it broke or didn’t work properly. Farmers, botanists, and even architects were included in Stargazer crews. Even a chef to teach the residents how to cook the future crops of Mars. Eric took being in charge of the Stargazer project seriously and was doing his best to make sure that nothing was left out.
When Drummond pulled his car up to the ship in the hangar, Eric and a few officers were there waiting for them.
“Don’t worry,” Eric called out, “We weren’t going to leave without him.”
“I appreciate that,” Drummond said as he and his son walked over with several big bags that he had packed for his son. A little more than what the average person had packed for the trip, but Eric was willing to let it pass since if it wasn’t for Drummond, Eric wouldn’t be in the position he was in to leave the planet and take his chances on mars while an asteroid threatened to wipe out all mankind.
“Did you take my advice?” Eric then asked, “Did you pack up for the bunker so you wouldn’t have to go back home?”
“I did,” Drummond replied, “Do you really think the people are going to flip out that badly after The Elpis leaves orbit?”
“I hope not,” Eric honestly answered, “But people have lost their shit for lesser reasons, haven’t they?”
“Touché.” Drummond said, as he walked up to shake Eric’s hand. “Please take good care of him.”
“I promise,” Eric said, holding onto Drummonds hand and not letting go.
“Is there something wrong?” Drummond asked.
“I’m sorry,” Eric then told him.
“For what?” Drummond asked.
Drummond didn’t realize it but one of the guards had snuck up behind him, and just as Eric let go of his hand the guard hit the Sergeant with a taser, knocking him unconscious. He laid there on the ground shaking like a leaf until he stopped moving. Gabriel looked back at Eric, with a shocked look on his face.
“What did you do that for?” he called out.
“Do you want to leave him behind?” Eric replied with a question of his own.
“No, I don’t.” Gabriel answered.
“Neither do I,” Eric told the young man, “That’s why he’s coming with us.”
“He is?” Gabriel said, as he couldn’t believe it.
“He is,” Eric confirmed, turning to the other guards behind him, “Get the Sergeant’s things from his car. Let’s hope he packed lighter than his son.”
Once all the stuff from Drummond’s car was packed onboard, Eric make one final check before locking the ship up. From there he went to the bridge to monitor take off. As he walked onboard, there was a man wearing a naval uniform waiting for him there.
“Are we all set, Doctor Saunders?” The man asked Eric as he arrived.
“All set, Captain,” Eric replied, “We’re good to leave when you are.”
Without telling the military, Eric had secretly recruited some of the best Captains from their naval fleet. Some of them were still active, while others, like Captain Webb were retired and commanding cruise ships for big money. He wanted Captains who had combat experience and would never crack under pressure. Someone who knew how to command a boat and he had lifted the best that were available. Webb used to command an aircraft carrier, so there was no one he trusted more to command The Elpis, whose cargo was the most valuable of them all. While the first Stargazer carried only engineers and crew, Eric also made sure that each vessel afterwards carried at least five thousand civilians, just in case The Elpis had issues and didn’t make it. Worst case they would have twenty thousand at the colony, where the best case would be close to forty thousand if all hands made it safely. Ambitious, but Eric wasn’t taking any chances. He was going all in with the Stargazer project.
The hangar doors had been open since sunrise, and now it was time for Eric’s engines to do the rest. Unlike the previous Stargazer ships that had four engines. This one had six, which not only make lift off easier but increased their odds of success were greater because they could stand to lose an engine or two and still make it. This craft was also a bit bigger than the other ships, making adequate living space for a large amount of people. When the massive space craft began to rise into the skies, it took a while for the world to realize what was going on. Not even the White House was aware of the take off, which made them even angrier when they realized the last ship was leaving without even asking for permission. This made things awkward when norrad began to open communications with The Elpis as it continued to rise into the skies towards space.
“Unidentified aircraft; please identify yourself.” The radio called out.
“I’ll handle this,” Captain Webb said as he walked over to the com and pressed a button, “This is Captain Anthony Webb of The Elpis. We are an American Spacecraft, Starship Seven of the Stargazer project. I suggest you contact the White House and confirm that, because what I’m telling you is top secret.”
“What are you doing, Elpis?”
“We are leaving the planet,” Captain Webb answered, “At our current rate of climb, we will be leaving the atmosphere in two minutes.”
“What is your destination?”
“A fair question,” Webb said as he cracked a smile, “We’re going to Mars. We’ll send you a post card when we get there.”
Webb turned off the panel, “That will take care of them. I’m not worried about a response; they’ll be too busy checking to see if we are American before sending anyone after us. By the time they figure out what’s going on, we’ll no longer be on this planet. I have a feeling Washington isn’t going to be pleased how we just outed the Stargazer project like that.”
“I don’t care,” Eric bluntly replied, “several months from now, there might not be anyone left behind to worry about that.”
“Fair enough,” The Captain replied, “You’re being a little cold about this.”
“How so?” Eric asked.
“How would you feel if you were on the Titanic and the last life boat left without you?” the Captain asked, putting into terms anyone could understand.
“Don’t worry Captain,” Eric said as he patted Webb on the shoulder, “If all goes well, I plan to send one of the Stargazers back to refill with more people. There’s a good chance we are not the last life boat.
“You’re nine moves ahead of me,” The Captain said with a grin, “Remind me never to play chess with you.”
“Did we remember to bring a board?” Eric then asked.
The captain smiled, “I’m not sure, but I think one of these computers onboard has a digital copy and when we get to Mars, I’ll make one out of their rocks.”
“Good idea,” Eric said as he turned to leave the bridge, “I’m going to check up on Drummond and his son. Call me if there are any issues.”
“Will do, Doctor Saunders,” The Captain said as he strolled over and sat in his chair and watched as The Elpis finally broke through the atmosphere and entered space. They were finally on their way to a new planet, their new home for the foreseeable future.
Drummond was unconscious for the better part of seven hours. When he finally opened his eyes, and looked up at smiling face of his own son, it didn’t take long for him to realize what Saunders had done. He had already broken dozens of laws, broke protocol and disobeyed orders from everyone in his government, even the President. What harm would it do to add kidnapping an officer to the list of offenses? Drummond groaned as he sat up in bed. As his vision came into focus, he could see Eric standing on the other side of the room, slyly staying out of arm’s reach some Drummond couldn’t punch him. He looked up at Eric and sighed.
“I should have seen this coming,” he started, “Why did you do it?”
“I was worried that they big wigs might try to make you the scapegoat,” Eric explained, “especially if they found out I took your son.”
“Is that the only reason?” Drummond asked.
“No,” Eric said, sitting down. “I wanted you to be my military advisor. Not only because I trust you but I also know that you trust me. You were willing to leave me to care for your only son. Trust like that is vital is important to the success of this mission. It will make the difference between living and dying.”
“That is so cool!” Gabriel called out.
“Yes it is,” Eric agreed,
“I ought to kill you for what you did,” Drummond said as he stood up, “But it wasn’t like I was an eager participant.”
“You were not,” Eric admitted, “Even the Captain knows you were taken without consent. He’s willing to testify to that as well.”
Drummond stood up and then something dawned on him. “How am I standing? I thought we would be in zero gravity in space?”
“That’s something me and a team of engineers took care of.” Eric answered, smiling. “It’s why I needed to lower the capacity from thirty thousand to twenty five.”
Drummond held his hands up, “Not in the mood to listen to stuff that I likely won’t understand to begin with. The fact is I’m here and you can’t exactly turn back and drop me off. Now that the world knows about the existence of our project, it would be best to continue on with our mission.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Eric said as he gestured to the door, “Follow me and I’ll take you to today’s briefing.”
“Briefing?” Drummond replied, “What briefing?”
“With the other ships,” Eric replied.
Drummond took a deep breath. “Lead the way.”
It took the better part of twenty minutes to walk down hallways and climb up stairs to make their way to a specific room that was near the bridge. Drummond could tell them were closer to the bridge because the gravity was getting lighter. Once they were in what looked like a situation room, they were able to begin the briefing by introducing Drummond to everyone present.
“Sergeant,” Eric said, gesturing to the Captain, “This is Captain...”
“Webber, Anthony Webber.” Drummond said, slightly surprised. “We met when I graduated from the naval academy. You made the commencement speech.”
“I did,” Webber said, smiling, “Good memory, Sergeant.”
“What are you doing here?” Drummond asked.
“I was asked to come out of retirement,” Webber replied, “This man here made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
“He has experience with both military and public ships,” Eric added, “He seemed like the ideal candidate to Captain the ship with our most prized cargo.”
“What did he offer you?” Drummond asked.
“Safe passage for my son and grandkids,” Webber answered, “They’re on the desks below. When the Elpis lands, I have agreed to take command of one of the other Stargazer ships.”
“Hold on,” Drummond interrupted, “When the Elpis lands?”
“Take a seat Sergeant,” The Captain replied, “All will be answered during the briefing. Would be better to just get on with is so we don’t have to explain it twice.”
Drummond had more questions, but agreed that it was better to just sit down and learn through the briefing. When he did so, the screen to his left changed and they were looking at two separate feeds, the Captains from Stargazer four and five. Then another screen showed a face that was familiar to Drummond, it was someone from his own command, someone he hadn’t heard from in a while.
“Ms. Jones?” Drummond called out.
“Sergeant,” Samantha called back, “Nice to see you again.”
“Where are you?” he asked her.
“I’m on Mars,” She answered, “I left with Stargazer One.”
“You’re already on Mars?” Drummond said, looking back at Eric. “When did Stargazer One really leave orbit? Cause it takes a hell of a lot longer than two months to get to Mars.”
“You got me,” Eric said raising his hands, “Stargazer One left seven months ago. They’ve been on Mars for almost four months.”
“Unbelievable,” Drummond cussed, “When did the others ships really leave?”
“Stargazer Two and Three left five months ago,” Eric continued, “Four and Five had left two weeks before we had our little chat.”
“Now I really want to punch you,” Drummond said.
“Not now gentlemen,” Captain Webber interrupted, “Ms. Jones, please give us an update on construction of the Stargazer Colony.”
“We’ve been making great progress.” Samantha replied, “We are two weeks ahead of schedule. Stargazer Two and Three arrived just in time, as we were running low on building supplies when they got here. Now that the ships have landed, we are working hard to finish before you get here.”
“The ships landed?” Drummond repeated, “I’m not following this.”
“After speaking with several architects we determined the original plan, which was to make spider like bases with bunkers was not the right way to go. It would take too much time and supplies to do it. I brought in some other architects and they helped me come up with a better way to construct a colony.”
“Is that so?” Drummond asked, “What was your plan?”
“To use the ships,” Captain Webb answered, “Stargazer one landed and itself has been transformed into the center of the colony. From there, we use the supplies from Stargazer One to build connections that will expand both the ship and connect to the other ships. Stargazer One and Two will all be converted into one massive Colony, connected together to house everyone coming over in the Elpis.”
“That’s ambitious.” Drummond said, “Will it be ready for us when we get there?”
“It appears so, Sir.” Samantha answered for him. “When the ships are completely united to create the expanded colony, it will have enough room to house over fifty thousand people, double of what is coming over on the Elpis.”
‘Why so much space?” Drummond asked, “Why not bring more people if we have the room for it?”
“The spare room is for future generations.” Eric replied, “for future families that will be bred over the next twenty years.”
“By then we will have converted Elpis into its own colony.” Samantha continued, “Which will be connected to the other colony by a monorail.”
“What about the other ships?” Drummond asked, “Are they all being converted into future colonies?”
“No,” Eric answered, “Stargazer three is going to deliver supplies for the colony and then leave to re-enter orbit around Mars. It will eventually be converted into a space station that will watch over the colony and the planet.”
‘Stargazer Four will be decommissioned and torn apart after all supplies are exhausted.” Webber added, “We will use the outer hull and engines to create transport ships, smaller vessels to keep physical contact with the Stargazer Three once it becomes the Mars Space Station. Stargazer five will remain in orbit after it delivers its supplies as well. Once the Elpis has off loaded its passengers, it will relocate to its final resting place, a backup of sorts if we need it.”
“If everything goes according to plan,” Eric continued, “Stargazer Five will head back for Earth. I’m hoping we can get more supplies and more people on board before the asteroid comes anywhere near the planet. We’ll be cutting it close but I think we might have a chance.”
“You’re going back to Earth?” Drummond asked.
“We are,” Eric answered, “As soon as our work here is finished.”
While Drummond didn’t appreciate the deception Saunders used to get his work done, he had to tip his cap at the efficiency he was able to achieve with the Stargazer project without unnecessary constraints. The project was ahead of schedule, and considering that the survival of the human race was at stake, it was hard to get angry at Saunders for taking his job too seriously. Because of the extra engines that were equipped to the Elpis, the extra propulsion made it possible for the large craft to catch up with the two Stargazers ahead of it. When caught up with them, Web had the ship power down the additional engines and carry on at the same pace as the other two spacecrafts. Drummond realized this was a part of Saunders’ plan all along, but kept his contempt to himself since it wouldn’t be productive to anyone. So rather than bother or nag Saunders with his questions, Drummond decided to spent the few weeks it took to catch up with the other Stargazer starships reading up anything he could find in the database about the project. Drummond knew that Saunders had too much ego for the people of the new colony to not let them know who saved them and exactly how he and his massive band of engineers did it.
Drummond’s endless sessions on the database were exhausting as many members of the construction crew kept detailed notes. Made sense because on day they might have to look back at the order of how things were done if something were to break or need to be repaired. Drummond also took note all the changes in the project that Saunders made without bothering to keep Washington in the loop of, let alone ask for permission, and the number of infractions was outrageous. The launch schedule, hiring more engineers to bump it up so that the ships would be up before anyone was the wiser, while reckless was effective. While the people of Earth might be pissed that the lifeboats left without them, a selection profess of any kind would have caused riots, possibly even invasions by other nations to seize the ships for themselves. While it was difficult for him to admit, Saunders had done the right thing; the Stargazer project had to remain a secret in order for it to have any chance of being successful.
The more Drummond dug into the information that was in the Elpis’ databanks, the more he realized how dangerous it was to reach out to Dr. Saunders. He was already aware of Eric’s O.C.D but had no idea what a control freak he would become as the months passed by. He was near impossible to work with on normal projects, but with the end of the world on the line he ran the Stargazer project like a dictator on steroids. He ran the project with an iron fist, making sure no one talked or leaked what they were doing. Drummond was impressed but scared at the same time. Was he going to run the Mars colony the same way he ran the project on Earth; like a dictator? The thought scared Drummond, but there was a glimmer of hope: the addition of Captain Web. The Captain was clearly in charge of the Elpis, and not even Eric seemed to be above him. It seemed that Eric was not dumb enough to try to run this ship on his own. He understood that there were people better qualified to do that and not endanger the ship or the mission.
Drummond jumped when his door’s buzzer went off. He took a deep breath and then finally replied.
“Enter,” he called out.
The door opened, and Eric strolled in.
“What can I do for you?” Drummond asked.
“I noticed you’re reading a lot of our project files,” Eric replied, “I thought I’d save you some trouble and help you find the answers you’re looking for.”
“Is that so?” Drummond asked, shutting off his monitor, “What incentive do you have to tell the truth?”
“Trust,” Eric said as he took a seat across from Drummond, “Is going to be vital if we’re going to run a successful colony.”
“So you do plan on running the colony?” Drummond accused him, “Is this going to be the perfect utopia for you to run as you see fit?”
“Hardly,” Eric answered, even chuckling at the thought. “I have no plans to run Mars as an off world dictatorship. The last thing I want to do is oppress the people I’m bringing to Mars, because they will rebel if I tried. We didn’t recruit or pick up lackies that will follow my every whim. Over eighty percent of the people we’re bringing with us are highly educated. They will not accept any form of a dictatorship, nor should they. I do not want to bring Earth’s baggage to Mars. While it won’t be a perfect utopia, it’s also not going to be the clusterfuck we left behind either.”
“That’s not what I expected,” Drummond admitted, “You’re actually going to let the people control their own future?”
“To an extent,” Eric corrected him, “I will have the ability to overrule the council and lock them out if I have to. Something I hope I never have to exercise but only will if something endangers the entire colony. I will step in if our civilians are at risk.”
“That seems fair,” Drummond agreed, “But is it wise for you to have the only access to this protocol? What if you die in an accident? You need a backup.”
“That makes sense,” Eric said, thinking about it. “Do you want to be the backup then?”
“I will take on this responsibility if I have to,” Drummond replied, “but like yourself I hope that it’s something neither of us will have to use. Ever.”
“I can agree to that,” Eric said, shaking Drummond’s hand. “I hope you take that as a sign that I do not plan on being the supreme ruler of Mars.”
“A bit,” Drummond confessed, “But let’s see how things go on the red planet.”
“We should head for the mess,” Eric suggested, standing up. “I’m famished.”
“I’m not hungry,” Drummond admitted. “I haven’t been that much since coming aboard.”
“I see,” Eric said, amused. “You’re the kind who gets sick on planes, aren’t ya?”
“Guilty,” Drummond said, before looking back at Eric. “Do you think Earth will survive? Do you think they’ll stop the asteroid?”
Eric paused for a moment and thought about it. “To be honest, I’m not sure. Of course I hope they get a miracle and are spared an extinction level event. It would definitely make our lives easier because we can send stargazers back to Earth for more supplies. We could turn out colony into a rather profitable resort too. But odds are they are not going to survive. We have to carry on assuming they won’t cause all we can think about right now is surviving. Depending on Earth to make it and then help us only sets ourselves up for defeat. As much as I would love for them to win, we don’t have the luxury to make assumptions. Until we can confirm it later, we have to assume the asteroid is going to hit them and wipe them all out. It’s the only way we can make it. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
“Wise words,” Drummond confessed, “Words I like to live by.”
“Is there anything else you need to know?” Eric asked.
“Not right now,” Drummond said, “But I do appreciate your honesty and your willingness to ease my nerves.”
“We’re in this together,” Eric said, giving his friend a soft pat on the shoulder. “This is our problem to solve, and I want your help to make this work.”
“You have it,” Drummond replied, “My son is all the motivation I need to give this project the best effort I can. We will make it work on Mars.”
“I know,” Eric said with a grin. “Is there anything else you’d like to ask?”
“How long will it really take us to get to Mars?” Drummond asked, “We caught up with the ships that left before us, so I assume we’re going faster than you led us all to believe the ships were capable of going.”
“You are correct.” Eric said, sitting down again. “The first two Stargazer ships pushed the engines ten percent harder and they cut their time down by a month. As a test we had Stargazer three push it harder, and as a result it was there in record time. We’re moving at the safe ten perfect pace the first two ships did, because our cargo is fragile. We’re not taking any chances with the people who will populate our colony.”
“That makes sense,” Drummond agreed, “You may have kept a lot from our government, but you’re not being reckless. I appreciate that.”
“This is why I wanted you here,” Eric continued, “Out of all the people in the military, you are the one I trusted most. You never bullshit me once, always handed me the truth with the subtlety of a sledge hammer to the head. I admired you for that, and that’s why I knew you had to come along. Our colony’s survival, your son’s survival depended on it.”
“You didn’t answer my question.” Drummond replied, “How long will it take for us to get to Mars?”
Eric smiled, aware he didn’t answer it.
“Four more weeks,” he replied. “Right now Elpis is running ten percent above normal parameters. The other two ships are running at fifteen just to keep up. We’re making great time and so it the colony. They’ll be ready for us when the ships get there. Once Elpis’ people have all been made comfortable in their new home, we’ll begin to tear this ship apart and transform it into the next section of the new base, more housing for future generation as well as a lab for scientific research.”
“You’re really thought of everything,” Drummond said to him.
“Not everything,” Eric corrected him, “but hopefully enough. In the meantime, you need to get something to eat. Don’t make me get the captain to order you to eat.”
“All right,” Drummond said as he got up, “Let’s get some chow.”
As the two men left for the mess, Drummond felt a little more at east than he had earlier that day. Eric’s power trip only matter when trying to fend off a government that could have stalled his project. Now that he was off world and making killer time, he wasn’t as possessive as he thought Eric might be with the new colony. Drummond has new hope for the weeks ahead, when both he and Eric would become citizen of Mars.
As Eric had told him that day, it took the Eplis and the other two Stargazer ships about two months to complete the rest of their journey. While some people onboard might have started to become restless, they became more excited when the red planet started to come into view. Many of them could hardly believe it until they had seen it with their own eyes. Much to their surprise, Stargazer three was already back in orbit and undergoing its transformation into a station to orbit the planet and keep a watch out for the people below. Eric knew that since they weather patterns and many other elements to Mars was unknown to humans, he and the other engineers thought it would be best to have a human outpost in orbit, watching from above at all times. The crew onboard the station that was going to be called the red eye would have enough people onboard to make sure the station was always on duty, watching the planet at all times in shifts. Eric was not one to take anything to chance and having eyes in the sky that were not just mechanical was best to look out for them and their future. Drummond couldn’t help but also be pulled to the windows to see for himself, as this was a journey that only machines had made up to this point. He walked to the observation deck with his son and they both looked upon the planet they had been flying towards all that time.
“I can’t believe we’re really here,” Gabriel told his father.
“Neither can I,” Drummond said, unable to take his eyes off the massive planet.
“I’m glad you came along,” his son told him.
“I didn’t have a choice,” Drummond reminded him.
“Then I’m glad he didn’t give you one,” the young man said, smiling.
Drummond couldn’t help but laugh, fully aware of what his son meant. As awesome as this trip had been so far, it wouldn’t have been as much fun if his father hadn’t been there to share it. Drummond also knew he was in trouble. The White House might suspect that the Sergeant might have taken his son on the Elpis to save himself and his son against orders, taking advantage of his position within the Stargazer program. Drummond however would welcome a court martial with open arms if that meant the Earth survived long enough to give him one. He’s gladly spend time in Leavenworth if it meant the world didn’t end and everyone he knew survived. He would happily burn that bridge when he got to it, but for new Drummond’s goal was to assist Doctor Saunders and the people survive on Mars and make things work at the new colony, which could be mankind’s only hopes to avoid extinction.
Both Drummond and his son were startled as the Captain came across the speakers as he addressed both Elpis’ crew and passengers.
“Everyone return to your rooms or posts and strap in,” Captain Webber ordered, “We are going to enter the atmosphere and begin our slow decent towards our landing zone which is ready to connect us to the parts of the colony that have already been constructed. You have ten minutes to get secured.”
The Captain actually gave everyone twenty minutes before the Elpis started to descend into the atmosphere. It was a bumpy ride at first but soon the ship managed to break through and start to cruise towards its destination. Four Stargazer ships had come before, with the first two being combined to form one super station on the ground. Merging the two Stargazer vessels creation a massive dome, one the engineers on both ships managed to expand as high as they could based on the supplies and scraps from both ships they could use. When it was all said and done, the dome inside was tall enough to fit a ten story building inside, something that was never attempted. The highest building inside the combined ships was no more than four stories, and that was one of many apartment buildings that were constructed inside. By the time construction was over, the new dome was ready to house over twenty thousand people to become its own community. No detail was spared, as a town hall, elementary and high school, even a library was created so that they could all function together real town and a single collective. Drummond couldn’t believe how massive the new dome was, surprised that the engineers were able to construct something so massive using the two ships as the skeleton of it. He was amazed and felt a sense of hope that Eric and his brilliant band of engineers has done the impossible, they were going to establish a colony on Mars. History was indeed being made, but it wasn’t something they wanted; instead it was something they were forced to do out of desperation.
The biggest vessel of the Stargazer fleet had no problem landing just half a mile away from the domes colony, and a tunnel had already been constructed to connect the ship to the Colony, which would make departure for the passengers that much more easier. Still it would take time to remove and organize over twenty thousand and to do that, the ship would require people to be patient.
“It will take a few days, maybe even a week for us to get everyone moved into their new accommodations,” the Captain said again, “But be patient with us, this is the best way to settle everyone in without incident. Thank you for understanding. You will be called out by section so please pack up and get ready for your turn.”
Drummond and his son were in the first section to leave the ship. Eric and his daughter had come down to help them carry their luggage to their new home. As they were strolling to the building, Drummond couldn’t help but notice something.
“What is it?” Eric asked.
“There’s no roads,” Drummond observed, “That’s odd.”
“That was intentional,” Eric replied, “We didn’t want to bring any cars to the colony, and walking promotes more exercise and social interaction. Burning fossil fuels instead of calories just didn’t make sense to us. Roads also take up a lot of space and as you can see we needed every foot we could get, so cutting out the roads as a big space saver for us. We have some golf carts to us in an emergency, but that’s about it. We will be installing mono-rails to connect to other parts of the colony, especially when the Elpis is converted.”
“Walking is good for us, Dad.” Gabriel repeated, “I like walking!”
“Same here,” Drummond said, as he was not one to argue against good health.
“What building is that?” Gabriel called out, pointing away to their left.
“That’s where you’ll be going to school.” Eric answered.
“I have to go to school here too?” Gabriel replied.
“You’ll never get away from school,” Jessica retorted, “But schools are necessary for not only education but becoming a social, law bidding citizen of this new colony.”
“What about sports?” Gabriel asked.
“Like I said before, space is limited.” Eric answered, “But we’ll see about building something around here for you to play on. Physical activity is going to play a big role in our survival on Mars. We wouldn’t want you to get out of shape, would we?”
When they finally arrived at the building that would be the new home for Drummond and his son, they walked up the stairs to the third floor and settled into room 305. It was a standard two bedroom apartment, with a kitchen, living room and even a den.
“Do they all have dens?” Drummond asked.
“No,” Eric replied honestly, “But you will need a place to do your work. I’m not sure when we’ll have office space available.”
“Fair enough,” Drummond replied as he tossed a few bags onto the couch.
“There’s food in the fridge,” Eric continued, “We had the boys in agriculture whip up some welcome packages for the people to start with. We might have to ration from there, but when we get ahead, we’ll try to get things back to normal.”
“So what now?” Drummond asked.
“Get settled, in and try to get some rest.” Eric told him. Meet me at the bridge of the Elpis tomorrow at noon. We’re going to make a very important phone call, check in on the home world... see if its still there.”
“All right,” Drummond said, sighing. “See you tomorrow.”
After Eric and Jessica left the apartment, Drummond settled down into a chair that was beside the couch. This was going to be the first time he spoke with his own government since being kidnapped by Eric and the Stargazers. He sighed again as he realized that no matter what happened, it wasn’t like they could come out all the way to Mars to arrest him. He just hoped Earth would still be there to respond.
It took the Elpis close to two weeks to unload all its passengers safely into the new complexes that were located in the central done. While many people were impressed with the size and scope of the new town/colony, which alleviated many fears of living within small spaces for the rest of their lives, it was still a restrictive zone, no bigger than a small town. With close to thirty thousand people residing there, it would become more cozy when new babies were born as live moved on without Earth. People were assimilating into their new lives a lot better than Eric had hoped they would. While being on a new planet should have freaked many of them out, the fact that they made the colony look as much like home as possible made it easier for the new citizens of Mars to adapt to their new surroundings. The food supply was maintained and the scientists who left on Stargazer one to get crops started before everyone arrived were far ahead of schedule and looked forward to using parts from Elpis when they started to hollow it out to build more greenhouses, which would in turn allow them to create more crops and try to diversify their food supply. What the agriculture boys didn’t tell the government was that they used the emergency stash from a bunker in Denmark, and brought it to Mars with them. When asking for the seed supply, they told Denmark that the seeds were going to be stashed in a bunker in the US. The only way they’d get caught is if the asteroid is stopped and the Danes ask for their seeds back. It was a risk they were willing to take; doing whatever was in their power to preserve live on Mars. They had no idea which seeds would grow and which crops would fail on the red planet, so taking as many varieties with you as possible was the smart bet. It was no surprise that potatoes were again the champion of all veggies, proving to them all that spuds could literally grow anywhere. But this wasn’t what was keeping Drummond up at night. What was worrying him was the lack of communication with Earth. At first he was sure the government refused to speak with them for launching the stargazers without consent from them. Then he started to dread what everyone else in command was thinking but was afraid to admit. The asteroid had hit the planet and everyone on Earth was dead from the extinction level event. Despite the overwhelming feeling he got every time he thought about it, Drummond refused to believe it. He was sure that one of the other projects was successful; he badly wanted it to be true. Yet the alternative was just as scary as well. If Earth survived the asteroid, it was only a matter of time before the United State government came to mars to claim the Stargazer Colony for themselves and assume command. Something he was sure that Eric or he people living in the colony wouldn’t be very fond of. All of these possible scenarios is what kept Drummond up every night. His son could tell the old man wasn’t getting any sleep but he didn’t talk about it. He refused to burden his son with things that might never come to pass and were completely out of their control. But the more time passed on, the more concerned Drummond became. Almost six months after arriving, Eric called on Drummond to meet him at the Elpis, which was in the process of being stripped down and remodeled. Drummond hadn’t been out to the Eplis in weeks, and was surprised to see how far they had gotten gutting the ship. The plan was to turn the Elpis into a massive research center, giving the scientists and engineers more room to do work at a safe distance from civilians. That way if something went terribly wrong, the main dome and the people in it were separated and not affected by anything. Drummond approached the closest worker and asked where Saunders could be found.
“He’s in the hanger, inspecting the Squadron.” The young man answered.
“The Squadron?” Drummond repeated.
The young man smiled. “You’re in for a treat, Sir.”
Drummond walked in the direction the young man told him to go and finally came across what he was talking about. The aft side of the Elpis has been constructed into a hanger, filled with what look like fighter planes. Each one of them had two seats and were no larger than the F-16 and as he walked closer to one of them, he was spotted by Eric who called out to him.
“Over here,” Eric yelled out, “We’re almost ready to test out our newest additions to the fleet.”
“What is going on here?” Drummond roared, walking up to Eric. “Why wasn’t I informed that you were constructing military air vessels?”
“We’ve been designing them for quite a while,” Eric replied, “And construction on the first few started after Stargazer three arrived, because that was the ship that carried these fine aerospace engineers. With my help, we’ve invented some pretty bad ass fighter plans that whose sole responsibility is to protect the colony and the station in orbit.”
“Wait,” Drummond said, interrupting Eric. “These ships can leave orbit?”
“Yes,” Eric confirmed, “With my engines attached to them, they’re capable of flight in and out of the atmosphere.”
“Amazing,” Drummond said, looking over the blueprints there were on the table before them. “So they can fly up to the station?”
“Yes,” one of the other men standing around the table replied, “We already have four fighters stationed at the Stargazer Orbiter.”
“How do the ships fight?” Drummond inquired.
“We don’t have the metal to make munitions.” Eric replied, “So we used the engines to generate enough power to fuel cells that would fire...”
“Lasers,” Drummond finished as he realized what it was, “You’ve invented laser guns for these aircrafts?”
“Not me personally,” Eric modestly denied, “Someone else figured that one out.”
“So are you ready Sergeant?” the other man asked.
“For what?” Drummond asked.
“We’re going for a ride,” Eric replied, “Don’t worry, we’ll be back in time to pick up the kids from school.”
“A ride,” Drummond repeated, “In one of those?”
“Yes,” Eric said, laughing, “We’re going to visit the station.”
Drummond could hardly believe it, but less than an hour later he was in a full space suit complete with its own oxygen and in the back seat of one of the fighter jets, ready for takeoff. The small jet didn’t need a runway to take off as it had engines that lifted it off the ground, and once it was elevated fifteen feet, the engines that Eric designed kicked in and the Jet screamed out of the hangar and was moving amazingly fast. Drummond was impressed with how fast the thing was movie, but was also surprise how little the cockpit was shaking.
“This is a comfy ride,” he noted to the pilot in front of him.
“The hull is made of metal from one of the deconstructed Stargazers, number two if I’m not mistaken.” The pilot replied, “this outer hull it pretty much bullet proof, that’s how strong the metal from the hull of the big ships were.”
“Wow,” Drummond said, “And where were you recruited from?”
“Air force, sir.” The pilot said, “Sanders recruited the best the country had. When he detailed his plan for us, it was hard to say no.”
“So I’ve heard,” Drummond said, thinking about it. Saunders recruited much more people from the military than he had anticipated, but he chose wisely.
“Make sure your air lines are secure,” the pilot informed him, “We’re about to leave the red atmosphere.”
To Drummond’s surprise, the jet had no issues breaking atmosphere and didn’t even lose speed as it zipped into space. The pilot was clearly showing off as he did a rip around the red planet before making approach to Stargazer Station. Drummond actually appreciated the ride as it was amazing to see the whole planet from above. The small fighter used thrusters to slow down and eventually float into the hanger and dock with the station, which the pilot did with no problems.
“Welcome to Stargazer Station,” the pilot said as he popped the cockpit open once the hanger was secure.
“Amazing,” Drummond said as he stepped out. He had another surprise waiting for him when he looked around the Station hanger, as there were at least twenty five more fighter jets docked into the station. This station had more than enough jets to fend off any attack. Those fears he had were slowly starting to melt away as he learned more he realized what defenses were being made. Once inside the station and out of hanger, Drummond was able to remove his helmet and space suit. Eric and the other pilot were already in there, waiting for them.
“You enjoy surprising me, don’t you?” Drummond asked.
“It keeps motivated,” Eric confessed, “Follow me to check out the view.”
They went to the stations observation deck, which showed off an amazing view of Mars below. The red planted looked magnificent from their orbital view, but Drummond couldn’t help but remain worried about the colony’s future.
“I can tell you’re worried,” Eric informed him, “I remember seeing that face whenever you thought our project was behind schedule.”
“It’s just who I am,” Drummond confessed, “I worry about a lot.”
“One thing I need to tell you,” Eric said, pacing around the deck, “Is that this station holds most of our best communications technology. If or when Earth chooses to contact us, this is where the signal will go. That will give us a chance to review and talk about it before revealing it to the colony.”
“Have you heard anything?” Drummond asked.
“We have,” Eric answered, “We received our first communication from Earth about week ago.”
“How are they?” Drummond asked, as he was eager to know.
“Damaged, but alive.” Eric answered, “The asteroid was blown up by the military who did some insane things I don’t have the details to. But what happened was the big rock was shattered into about a few thousand smaller asteroids. While the rock was no longer a planet killer, there were still impacts; many of them. Whole cities were wiped out from lucky hits. All over the world, there was catastrophic damage, along with an enormous loss of life. But no extinction; the human race survived. Because the debris took out almost every satellite in space, it took this long to get a new one into orbit to establish communications with us.”
“What did you tell them?” Drummond asked.
“Only what they needed to know,” Eric replied, “That we’re alive, have enough food to last a while and that everyone is doing well in their new home. They were surprised to hear about the Station, but they think it’s like the size of one they used to have circling the Earth.”
“You lied to them,” Drummond said, rather annoyed by the idea, “How do you think they’re going to react when they come here to assume command of the colony?”
“They’re free to visit, but no one is assuming anything.” Eric retorted, “I pretty much made sure of that.”
“Is that so?” Drummond replied, wondering what Eric was referring to. “What makes you think can’t stroll up and seize this colony?”
“For the same reason you needed my help,” Eric answered.
“The engines,” Drummond said, looking back out at the red planet. “You falsified the patents, didn’t you?”
“That I did,” Eric said, smiling, “No one can make the engines unless I show them what’s missing. That’s why you couldn’t build them without me. Originally I did that to prevent countries like China or North Korea from stealing them from the patent offices, and also to prevent you guys from abusing it as well.”
“Fair enough,” Drummond said, thinking about it, “So you knew one day we would come for your help.”
“I did,” Eric replied, “Call me paranoid, but I didn’t think the patent office was all that secure. The fact that you were working on the engines long before I got involved pretty much proved that.”
“Touche,” Drummond said, finally cracking a smile. “So they can’t come after us even if they wanted to.”
“I’m sure NASA will eventually send someone over to visit,” Eric surmised, “But it will take them quite a while to get here without my help.”
“They’re not going to like it,” Drummond told Eric.
“I don’t care,” Eric replied, “I also took the time to inform the Military of your kidnapping. You are not in trouble with them any longer, so no court martial.”
“Thanks, I guess.” Drummond said.
“They’re going to contact us again in an hour,” Eric told him, “I thought you’d like to take the call this time.”
“Yes,” Drummond told him, “I would like that very much.”
“Good, let’s stroll over to communications!” Eric said, giving his bud a friendly slap on the shoulder. The two of them left the deck to take a phone call.
When Saunders and Drummond walked into communications, there was a man already in there waiting for them. When the two men entered the high tech room, the man walked over and extended a hand for both men to shake, which they did.
“Gentlemen,” the man started, “Welcome to Stargazer Space Observatory.”
“This is Commander Devon Jackson,” Eric said to Drummond, “The commanding officer of the station.”
“I’ve heard of you,” Drummond said, after he shook the man’s hand. “You used for NASA, right?”
“That is correct,” Devon replied, “I was in command of the international space station for over a year.”
“So this is second nature to you,” Drummond said, realizing that Eric cut no corners looking for the right people for each job.
“I’ll admit this place has a lot more perks,” Devon said, smiling, “And the chance to take a fighter for a cruise every now and then is a lot of fun too, as I’m sure you found out earlier today.”
“What’s the status of our communications with Earth?” Eric asked the commander, getting down to business.
“We’ve been communicating with Earth for the better part of two month, only through text messages. If felt like having a conversation on twitter, a little frustrating.” The Commander explained, “My experience with NASA has made communication civil, as I’ve been talking to Houston and people I’ve known for quite some time.”
“I was hoping that was the case.” Eric said as he walked over to one of the three comfy chairs that were in front of a massive screen.
“Did they give us much detail on why it took so long to re-establish contact?” Drummond asked.
“The asteroid has high levels if iron and other various metals.” Devon replied, “That and the debris from taking the big rock out also obliterated every satellite that was in existence. There’s so much rock up there, attempts to replace any of them were taken out as well.”
“At least they survived!” Drummond said, letting out a deep sigh.
“I don’t have many details about that,” Devon replied, “I don’t think it was a cake walk for them as NASA has been rather shy to give me the nitty gritty, and I really cranked up the charm. No dice.”
“So what’s different about today?” Drummond asked.
“Today is going to be our first video connection,” the Commander answered, “Earth is using a satellite that is so far out of orbit that it’s about halfway to the moon, and we’re using Stargazer 5 to relay the feed. We should have a clean connection with no more than a fifteen second delay. This is going to be epic, the first actual phone call between Mars and Earth.”
“So when are we expecting the call?” Drummond asked.
“Take a seat,” Devon replied, “It’s almost time. Just let me do the talking and we’ll keep this as civil as possible.”
Saunders and Drummond took seats on the outer parts while Devon Jackson sat in the middle as he was the ranking officer on the station. Moments later the screen started to beep, and Devon hit a button to activate the screen and accept the call that was coming in. When the screen came in, there were also three people on the other side of the call, as instructed. When negotiating the event, it was agreed that no more than three people on each side would be present to lower the chance of people talking over one another. On the other side of the call were three very familiar people to Drummond and Jackson. The first one was Owen Smith, the man was NASA’s chief. The second man there was Peter McCain, known to Drummond as the Secretary of Defense. The man in the middle chair was familiar to all three of them. So much that both Jackson and Drummond left to their feet and saluted, standing there like statues. Moments later, the man in the middle spoke.
“At ease, gentleman.” He said, appreciating the respect being shown even all the way from another planet.
After the two men sat down, Drummond was the next one to speak. “Mr. President, it’s good to see you.”
“Thank you,” the President replied, “I can’t begin to tell you how lucky we all are to be having this conversation. About four months after your final vessel left Earth’s orbit, the other programs started their campaign to destroy the asteroid. While many attempted were outright failures, one of our more dangerous and ambitious attempts was successful. Our success was not met without sacrifice. There were still large fragments that were able to get through re-entry and cause horrific devastation. Whole cities, and even a few small nations were completely obliterated, by either mammoth tsunamis or the asteroids hitting land itself. But the one that threatened to obliterate all life was turned away. We were able to rebuild and prosper.”
“I can’t begin to tell you how happy we are to hear that, Mr. President.” Jackson said, resuming his plan to do all the talking.
“Now that you know how things are going over here, what is your status?” the secretary asked, “How is life on Mars.”
“Sorry to correct you, Mr. Secretary,” Jackson replied, “We are not currently on the surface of the planet.”
“Explain that please.” The President asked.
“My name is Commander Devon Jackson,” he continued, “I’m the commanding officer of the Stargazer Space Observatory, which is also known as the Mars Space Station.”
“You constructed a space station?” the secretary repeated, “How man souls onboard?”
“Just over two hundred,” Jackson answered, “This used to be Stargazer Three before it was decommissioned and changed to be the station.”
“That’s very resourceful,” The President commented, surprised to hear that they had a space station in orbit that was larger than a naval battleship. “What is the status of the colony?”
“It’s doing well, Sir.” Jackson replied, “Over thirty thousand inhabit the colony and are adjusting to life on Mars rather well. And I should know, I’ve been watching it from above and keeping an eye out for any dangers. So far so good, Sir.”
“How are your supplies holding out?” the secretary asked.
“They are holding well, but agriculture has been so successful that self sustenance has been quite successful thus far,” Drummond answered, “We have been raising crops and breeding cattle and other livestock with great success and no issues with the new atmosphere on either.”
“I have to commend your efforts,” The president said, “You work on Mars has exceeded all of our expectations.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Jackson replied, “We’ve been rather proud of it ourselves.”
“When can one of the Stargazer ships return to Earth?”
The question hung in the air for quite some time. This was when Eric Saunders finally stepped into the conversation.
“Not anytime soon, Mr. President.”
“Doctor Saunders,” the Secretary responded, “Your handling of this program has angered a lot of people here on Earth. Your refusal to even allow us to nominate people to make the trip was also upsetting.”
“Your acceptance was irrelevant.” Eric said to the secretary. “I chose the people who would make the best contributions to the colony, to ensure its success. We had to make plans to prepare for your possible demise. That meant picking people best for the job, not because they knew someone with power. That meant picking people who were capable of taking care of themselves and others to ensure survival. Opening that process to politicians would have compromised that objection. With the survival of our species on the line, your wishes took a back seat. It’s that simple.”
“I’ll make this simple,” The President said, sitting up in his seat. “I am ordering one of your Stargazer cruisers to return to Earth.”
“I’m afraid we can’t do that.” Eric replied, “Your authority is no longer recognized by the colony.”
“Excuse me?” the secretary replied, “Who is in charge up there. You, Doctor Saunders?”
“No,” Saunders answered, “We elected a council to function as the colony’s government. They are in charge of the Stargazer program now. The ships and everything on the colony is under their authority. We are only here speaking to you because we asked and were given their permission to do so.”
“Are you a member of this council?” the secretary pushed.
“He’s not,” Drummond replied for him, “But I am. I’m the military representative of the council. I am in charge of defense.”
“I see.” The President replied, “This is unacceptable gentlemen.”
“That’s exactly what the British said when the declaration of independence was delivered.” Eric countered, “Not liking it doesn’t change the fact that it’s happening. Taking orders from another planet is not in this colony’s best interests, and would prevent us from doing what is necessary to survive if we have to ask you for permission on everything urgent we do.”
“What makes you think we can’t respond do your rebellion?” the secretary asked.
“You can’t replicate my engines,” Eric replied, “Which means you have no means of getting to Mars without my tech. That why you want Stargazer Five to return, so that you can strip it down, reverse engineer it and build a fleet to retake Mars. Not going to happen, gentlemen. Not while I’m still breathing. I’d rather take that secret to the grave than allow this colony to be seized.”
“If you’d like to visit,” Jackson added, “I’d be happy to accept any explorer NASA sends over with open arms. Just give a heads up so we don’t accidentally blow it out of the stars.”
“I’ve had enough of this,” The president said as he stood up. Moments later the line went dead, and their conversation was over. The three men looked at one another and contemplated what was being said on the other side after they disconnected.
“That could have been better.” Jackson admitted.
“It could have been a lot worse.” Drummond replied, “You should have seen the vein popping out of the secretary’s head when Eric mentioned the British and the declaration of independence. Did we just declare our own impendence right now?”
“Does that make us the founding fathers?” Jackson also asked.
“No,” Eric replied, “We are here on behalf of the council. History will show that it was elected leaders of the free colony who declared their own impendence. We just delivered their message like glorified messengers.”
“I think it was wise to leave out any details of our defense.” Jackson also added, “They don’t need to know that we have a squadron of fighter jets whose tech is way beyond anything they have.”
“I agree,” Eric concurred, “Let them think it’s just the colony, the station and a few Stargazer ships. If they try anything, we’ll be more than capable of turning them away and back from whence they came.”
“What if they try to contact us again?” Jackson then asked. “Should I answer.”
“No,” Eric replied, “It won’t be happening anyway. Contact Stargazer Five and instruct it to return to Mars as soon as possible. Only tweets from here on.”
“Understood,” Jackson replied, “That should piss them off.”
“I don’t really care,” Eric confessed, “I want all those ships as far away from Earth as possible. They’ll try to replicate my work, but in case they are successful, we need to do what we can to boost our defense to its limit.”
“We’ll do whatever we can,” Jackson said, shaking their hands again. “I’ll have a pilot take you back to the surface. It was a pleasure, gentlemen.”
While on his way back to the surface, Drummond was silent in his seat as he went over the conversation in his head. Eric was right to be cautious, but to turn on his own country was never part of the plan. Drummond also knew something neither Eric nor Devon were aware of. He was in the meetings at the pentagon and the white house where many politicians and generals joked about making the Mars colony a vacation destination for the rich if the Earth survived its apocalypse. They had zero intention of letting the people coming here stay and would have kicked them all out, saying thank you for risking your lives but it’s back to your regular life on Earth while only super rich can afford a condo on the red planet. Eric’s plan was to build a self sustainable alternative, a back up for the human race in the event that something happened to Earth, whether it be the asteroid, global warming or world war three. All the work and risks taken was done for good intentions, and Drummond would be damned if he was going to let Earth treat their work like a punch line to a very sick joke. Not while there was still breathe in both him and Eric Saunders.
Following the meeting with the Stargazer colony, the meeting itself was declared highly classified. That meant all records of the conversation, or what was said during said conversation were also classified and kept a secret from the public. The United State has spent trillions on these projects to save humanity, almost doubling the debt, so it was decided to keep the public in the dark about the Mars Colony. If the public were to hear that a project they funded just declared their independence and left the taxpayers with the bill, it would not be taken so well by the people. Congress’ would also freak out about how the debt was used to build a new nation, and it would become a monster of an issue, so it was decided to kept things under wraps for the time being. Anything that mentioned the Stargazer project was wiped from the system. The money used to fund it was reclassified as funding used for other projects, especially the one that actually did save the Earth from the extinction level event. Politicians had no problem fudging the books cause it made them look like heroes who put their money on the right horse and came out smelling like roses. Yet there were still people who believed the Stargazer project existed. Witnesses who claimed they saw one of the space cruisers launch into the sky. Others online claimed that NASA had been exchanging text only message with the colony on Mars, but that was denied as nothing more than just more conspiracy theories that were all speculation and zero evidence. They were laughed off and asked what kind of tin foil they wore on their heads when reading stories online. Nathan Jones was one of those people who claimed to see something, but was always dismissed by everyone as a quack. He as only seven when it happened, when he saw the massive ship rise out of the building and then floated up to the skip with massive engines propelling it up. Not even his father believed it, because the old man was in the bathroom taking a leak at the gas station when it happened. Before the old man can back from the latrine, the ship had already entered the clouds and was gone. He was endlessly teased at school, called a liar and was picked on for spreading stories that were just not true.
By the time he reached high school, Nathan had learned that hard way to keep his story to himself. He stopped telling people what he saw and instead chose to look for the answers himself. He studied engineering in school and even became a pilot in the air force, learning as much as he could about agronomics so that he could prove or even disprove what he had seen that day. While he never came close to finding out what the truth was, he came a lot closer on his twenty-fourth birthday. Almost fifteen years after the asteroid disaster that was averted, a wealthy entrepreneur named Richard Hawkes with an offer he simply couldn’t refuse. He was building what he told the governments all around the world was a new deep space satellite that was going to observe and look at distant stars, but he was lying to them. The massive probe that he wanted to launch into space was actually a deep space explorer, a manned explorer that he wanted to send to Mars. Hawkes even had details about the Stargazer program that no one else had access to. He even showed Nathan emails that he exchanged with Doctor Eric Saunders, asking for funding for something that he didn’t want to pass by the government out of fear they would deny his request and jeopardize the mission to colonize Mars. Nathan read that email a few times, and he was just happy to meet someone hat he didn’t have to convince what he saw that day was true. What the rich old man needed was a pilot, and Nathan was one of the best in the world. Upon hearing the destination, Nathan was eager to accept the mission. He along with three others would make up the crew of the make shift shuttle. They would have to mask themselves as a probe for the first week or two until they were far away enough from earth to change and expand the ship to make things more comfortable for the crew. Hawkes spent a quarter of his family’s fortune creating the rocket that would send the probe/shuttle into space.
When it came time for Nathan Jones to step away from the army, Hawkes had a doctor step up and declare that he was no longer fit to fly. Upon discharge, Jones disappeared and would never be heard from again, but since he was released for being incapable of flying, he would be the last man suspected of flying this mission.
The Day the rocket sent the probe/ship into space, many people watched with interest as it left orbit and into space. As planned, they would not communicate at all, only spending small pings to base to let them know. Command back in London would text a yes or no question, and one ping meant yes and two meant no. It wasn’t until they were past the moon and a lot further out into space that the shuttle shed it outer hull and hit started to really move. Yet without the aid of Saunders’ engines, it was going to take the probe/shuttle close to a year for it to make it out to Mars. This is why they had a skeleton crew of only three people; they had to cram supplies wall to wall to make sure there was enough to survive the trip. It was a mission that would test the resolve of the very small crew, but they were determined to make the trip. Nathan’s own desire was to see that space ship again in person, touch the hull and confirm that he wasn’t seeing things that day, that he wasn’t a crazy kid like everyone had accused him. The smartest thing the crew packed were games to pass the time, like a chess set, even connect four and anything they could do with a deck of cards. Simple things like that helped the crew keep their sanity, along with a few hard drives full of old shows and movies. The long months were tense at times, while other days were calmer as the three went further towards Mars.
When Nathan first spotted the red planet in his window, many months later, he was more excited than ever. They were still a while out, at least a week, but if they had champagne, the entire crew would be popping the bubbly at that point. It wasn’t until three days later when they made first contact. As they began to get closer to the red planet, one member of the crew notice something floating around it. They thought it was a moon or even a stray asteroid locked in the planet’s pull, but the argument was settle for them when the radio sparked to life.
“Unidentified space craft,” the radio started, “Please identify yourself or you will be considered a hostile target.”
The crew seemed to laugh at the thought.
“What are they going to do about it?” Nathan thought, amused by the threat.
That question was answered seconds later when two fighter jets flew past them at very high speeds. They crew scrambled to their windows to watch the jets fly buy a few times, and then Nathan activated his com and replied.
“We are not hostile, I repeat, not hostile.” Nathan started, “We are explorers from Earth.”
There was a short pause. “What government do you represent?”
“None,” Nathan replied, “This is a private mission that was conducted without the consent of any nation. Who are we addressing?”
“This is the M.S.O,” the radio replied, “The Mars Space Observatory.”
“Request permission to dock with the observatory,” Nathan requested. He and his crew paused and waited with great anticipation.
“Permission granted,” the voice replied, “After we scan your vessel.”
“Understood,” Nathan replied, “Scan to your heart’s content. If there are any other security measures to be observed, we will fully cooperate.”
“That is greatly appreciated,” the voice replied, “Please follow the Star Shooters to the observatory. They will be scanning the ship during escort.”
“Star Shooters,” Nathan said as he looked out the window, “Those things are amazing!”
It took them a few hours to float to the observatory and using thrusters, Nathan has no problem docking their make shift craft to the station. Once the doors opened, Nathan and his people almost hurt themselves as gravity came back to them for the first time in months. As they slowly walked off the vessel, they were welcomes by several armed men and one man who was their superior officer as he was unarmed and had his hands behind his back.
“I’m Commander Devon Jackson,” The officers started.
“You used to work for NASA.” Nathan commented.
“Yes, I did,” Jackson confirmed, “But that was a very long time ago. Please identify yourselves and your country of origin.”
“Nathan Jones,” Nathan said, saluting Jackson, “Air Force and out of Nevada.”
“And you,” Jackson asked the other two members.
“Samantha Hodder,” the young woman answered, “The United Kingdom.”
“Gregory Harris,” the last man replied, “Canada.”
“You’ve all come a long way,” Jackson said as he extended a hand, “Welcome to the Observatory, formerly known as Stargazer Three.”
“This was one of the Stargazer vessels?” Nathan asked, shocked.
“Yes,” Jackson confirmed, “The vessel was decommissioned and turned into an observatory for study as well as for planetary defense.”
“Like those Star Shooters?” Gregory inquired, “How long have you guys had those things shooting around?”
“I’m not allowed to answer that,” Jackson replied, “You will be debriefed by someone more qualified to answer any inquires you might have. We also have quite a few questions that we’d like to ask as well.”
“Of course,” Nathan said as he pulled something out of his coat. “That’s why we brought this for you as well.”
The men all looked at it strangely.
“What is that thing?” Jackson asked as he reached out and took it from Nathan to inspect for himself.
“It’s a data box.” Gregory asked, “There are over a hundred terabytes of data on that, which is over 1,000,000 gigs.”
“All that data is in this box?” Jackson repeated, “It’s no bigger than an apple.”
“While it’s not as impressive as your star shooters,” Nathan admitted, “We still managed to make some sound advancements since we parted ways.”
“Fair enough,” Jackson said, “Follow me for debriefing.”
“Who will be debriefing us?” Nathan asked as he and his comrades following Jackson down the hall.
“And ruin the surprise,” Jackson said as he opened the door, “After you.”
As the three crew members entered the room, two men were sitting at a table, waiting for them. Jackson walked into the room and handed the small apple sized box to the older of the two. He looked at it and then at the crew.
“What is this?” he asked.
“A present,” Nathan asked. “It’s a tool used for storing data, and lots of it.”
“What kind of data is on this?” the old man asked.
“Media files.” Samantha replied, “Every media file that has been created on Earth for the past fifteen years. To catch you up on how the home world has been fairing since you moved out.”
“That was awful considerate,” the old man said as he put down the box. “My name is Doctor Eric Saunders. This is Councilman Ian Drummond of the Mars high council, the government of the colony below.”
“So the colony does exist?” Nathan asked.
“It does,” Eric replied, with a weird look on his face, “Was the Stargazer project never revealed to the public?”
“Never,” Gregory replied, “All existence of it was wiped from records. Many of you are listed as casualties of the Asteroid disaster to cover up your absence.”
“How did they manage to pull that off?” Drummond asked.
“When countless millions die, adding thirty thousand names to the list was never even questioned,” Nathan answered, “And those of us who did ask the questions were removed from sight or deemed crazed nuts.”
“So in fifteen years, there isn’t one mention of our existence on this box?” Eric said as he held up the data box again.
“I’m afraid not, Sir.” Nathan replied, “But we are a privately funded mission. We do not represent any government. We were sent here by this man.”
Nathan pulled out a letter and handed it to Jackson who then passed it onto Eric, who proceeded to open it and read it. Once he finished reading it, Eric couldn’t help but laugh, as he remembered the man who sent them out.
“How is Richard doing these days?” Eric asked.
“Rather well considering his age,” Nathan answered, “He sends his regards and hopes you are all doing well here on Mars.”
“We are,” Drummond answered.
Eric held up the box, “Is this the only one you brought with you?”
“No sir,” Samantha answered, “We brought several.”
“That’s a lot of media files,” Jackson snidely commented.
“Not all of them media, Sir.” Nathan corrected him, “Some of them are like a care package. Movies and television shows we’ve made over the last ten years. Books, music and even sporting events, like the world series, the superbowl, and the last few Olympic games.”
“Wow,” Eric said as he sat back, “Richard sent us one hell of a care package. You do realize we’ll have to scan all of them to make sure there is nothing harmful in these data files.”
“We understand,” Nathan replied, “This is a peaceful mission. We just wanted to see for ourselves if the Stargazer program was real.”
“It was real alright,” Drummond replied, “Come see for yourself.”
As he stood up, Drummond waved at the three astronauts to follow him out the door. As they exited the small room, they entered a massive deck that had a brilliant view of the red planet.
“We’ll pass by them in just a few moments.” Drummond said, leaning up against the bars. “The colonies are so big they are visible from space now.”
“Colonies?” Nathan repeated, “As in plural?”
“Look for yourself,” Eric said as he came out to join them.
The three astronauts looked out in awe as the colonies came into view. There was one massive dome in the middle, but it has lines running to other domes that were from half to a quarter of the big one’s size.
“What are those lines?” Nathan asked.
“Rail lines,” Drummond repeated. “There are no cars. Either you walk or you take the train.”
“Where did you find the materials to make this?” Samantha asked.
“At first we used the hull of the ships.” Eric answered, “Then about five years later we found a rich metal in the ground and mined it to start building our own materials to expand. The last ten years has been spent expanding the main colony and then branching out to create others.
“Will we be allowed to visit?” Nathan asked, hoping he would get a chance to see the colony he’s spend his whole life dreaming about.
“Of course,” Eric replied, “But you’ll forgive us if we leave your ship up here. It would far easier to use our crafts to return to the colony.”
“You mean the star shooters?” Gregory asked.
“Not exactly,” Drummond replied, “but you’re still in for one hell of a ride.”
While Nathan and his crew were excited to be heading to the surface, what surprised them more was the amount of ships that were in the space stations hangar. There were at least twenty star shooters, but the vessel they were taking was one that was at the end of the hanger and three times larger than the shooters. As they were walking up, Nathan ran his hand across the vessel’s hull.
“This is a personal carrier,” he said out loud to no one in particular.
“We found this ship to be more conservative,” Eric replied, as he limped closer, using a cane to walk up to the ship. “Uses less fuel and carries more people up. As fun as it is to use star shooters, if more than one person is flying up or down, these carriers are the better ones to use.”
“That makes sense,” Nathan agreed, “You understand resources are not infinite so save wherever you can.”
“That’s right,” Eric said as he waved to the open hatch, “After you,”
The three astronauts as well as Drummond and Saunders all boarded the carrier, which lifted off once everyone was buckled up and ready to go. Once they cleared the station, it was only a matter of minutes before the carrier was re-entering Mar’s atmosphere and returning to the Red Planet. Once in the atmosphere, the carrier took its time getting to the colony, giving their new passengers a scenic route, to show off the great views of Mars while flying back to the colonies.
“It’s beautiful,” Samantha said, looking out the windows.
“The best is yet to come,” Nathan replied.
“He’s right,” Eric confirmed.
Moments later, the carrier passed through what looked like a canyon but was in fact a crater, a very big one.
“Whao,” Nathan said as he looked down. “What could cause such a massive crater? An asteroid?”
“No,” Eric replied, “I’m afraid this information is classified for the time being.”
“Sorry,” Nathan said, “I don’t mean to pry.”
“It’s alright,” Eric said, smiling back at him. “You’re curious and that’s always a good thing, especially for explorers.”
When the carrier finally approached the colonies, the view was even more amazing than what the astronauts had seen from space.
“Over the last decade,” Eric explained, “We used the new metals we found here on Mars to expand the dome, make it even bigger. What started as a small colony of over thirty thousand people is now a city with a population that will real a fifty thousand within the next few years.”
“That is amazing,” Gregory replied, “And you did this all on your own. I mean without help from Earth.”
“We knew from the beginning Earth’s help was never guaranteed,” Drummond explained, “We had no idea whether or not you survived the asteroid.”
“We barely survived,” Nathan told him, “it’s all on the media file. How we managed to break it up and avoid the major impact, but how devastating the smaller impacts were. Governments thought small impacts and the loss of some life was a far better than just letting an extinction level event occur.”
“Define some life?” Eric asked.
“Over two hundred and fifty million just on the first day,” Samantha answered, “We think another billion died from the post impact winters and crop failures.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Eric said, thinking of the devastation even small impacts would have made when slamming into Earth.
“It didn’t matter where they hit,” Gregory continued for Sam, “if it hit land, whole areas was devastated for miles, but the ones that hit water caused tsunamis that killed even more people in the coastal cities. We were screwed no matter where they landed.”
“What areas were hit hardest?” Drummond asked.
“Europe took a real beating,” Nathan replied, “Europe and Africa were facing the wrong way when the smaller rocks hit. But North America lost just as many lives because of the biggest tsunami which occurred in the Atlantic.”
“A heavy price to pay,” Eric said, sitting back.
“Hey,” Nathan said, spotting something outside his window. “What the hell is that massive thing?”
“That?” Eric said, looking out the same window. “That’s our newest battleship, Stargazer Ten. We started working on it six years ago, using only the raw metals we found on Mars. The metal, which we haven’t named yet, is lighter the our metals and is ten times tougher too.”
“You could call it Martian Metal,” Gregory suggested.
Eric and Drummond looked at each other then laughed as they looked back to their three guests.
“We just might,” Eric replied, “That’s the best suggestion I’ve heard yet.”
“We are on approach,” the pilot called out from the cockpit.
“Sit tight,” Eric called out.
The three astronauts braced for anything but were surprised as the carrier flew through a small tunnel like hole in the side of the massive dome, and seconds later they were clear of the large wall and inside of the dome, flying through town and heading towards the tall buildings in the center of the city. The three guests watched as they flew through the massive township, looking at all the people as they walked below. When the Carrier finally landed, it was on the room of the government building that houses the council of the colony. Upon hearing that visitors from Earth had arrived, Eric and Drummond requested the council to convene for an emergency session. Eager to speak with the new arrivals, the council was quick to concur. They were waiting for the three visitors in the council chambers. When Nathan and his crew followed Eric and Drummond into the chamber, there were nine seats, eight of which were occupied until Drummond took his place in the final seat. He was one of the longest running members of the council.
“This council formally welcomes you,” the woman in the center of the council started, “We are the democratically elected leaders of the Mars colonies. Years ago we named this colony Red Star, a name selected by the people during a referendum. Doctor Saunders, what nation do these people represent?”
“They don’t represent anyone,” Eric answered for them, “They are members of a private organization, and run by someone I personally know, so I can vouch for these people as the man they take orders from is a good man.”
“Understood, Doctor Saunders.” The council woman replied, “So why are they here. What brought them out to the red planet?”
“Curiosity would be my guess,” Eric answered, “They’ve come to check up on us, just to make sure everyone was doing well.”
“That was very considerate,” the council woman replied, “We do appreciate your efforts to check up on your former brethren.”
“Former?” Nathan repeated, “I still consider you our brethren.”
“Your world does not,” Drummond replied, “Not for a long time.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Nathan called out, “We are here because we care and wanted to reach out and open lines of communication.”
“Can we trust them, Doctor Saunders?” The council woman asked him.
“I think we can,” Eric responded.
“You’re sure they do not pose a threat?” another councilman asked.
“Not at the moment,” Eric honestly answered, “We’ve been scanning the ship, and as we speak it’s being disassembled by our engineers on the observatory. So far we’ve found no weapons, not even a pair of box cutters.”
“Hold on,” Gregory said, “You’re taking our ship apart?”
“How will we get home?” Samantha asked.
“If necessary,” Eric started, “We’ll offer you a ride home. It won’t take as long for us to make the trip either.”
“You’re making plans to return to Earth?” Nathan asked.
“We are,” the council woman answered, “Stargazer Ten’s sole purpose is to return to earth and open diplomatic talks with other nations.”
“We had no idea,” Nathan confessed, “I’m not sure how our planet will respond if made aware of this stations existence.”
“We will take that under advisement.” The council woman replied.
“We will also use the media from the data box you’ve given us,” Drummond replied, “As a means to judge whether or not your world is really ready to re-establish ties with us.”
“How should we tell the colony?” the council woman then asked.
“I have an idea,” Eric said, stepping forward, “For your consideration of course. I think we should introduce them to the colony during our independence celebrations.”
“Very well,” Council woman said, “We will introduce our new friends at the event during our independence day.”
With that said, the council stood and then vacated the room. Their session was over. Standing there in the chamber, Nathan walked up to Eric as he was confused about something.
“I don’t get it,” Nathan replied, “We’re in the middle of September; the fourth of July was a while back.”
“Not your independence,” Eric corrected, “The colony declared their independence from the United States on September twentieth, fourteen years ago. We celebrate the day we told Earth we were going to do our own thing without them.”
“Oh, right,” Nathan said, feeling stupid. “Who did the honors?”
“You’re looking at him, kid.” Eric said, playfully slapping the kid on the shoulder. “Let’s take a walk; I know a great place that serves a great steak.”
“Lead the way, Doctor.” Nathan said, eager to have some real food.
The celebration of the Colony’s independence was made that much more special when the three astronauts from Earth were introduced to deafening cheers from the crowd in attendance. Not only were people happy to see new people on their world, but this was actually the first full confirmation that Earth had survived the asteroid that had threatened to wipe them all out. That alone was another reason to celebrate the big day as the people partied, many long into the night. It was a grand celebration, but one that eventually settled down without any incidents, and everyone eventually went home. Nathan was still full of energy so he left the house where he was staying with his crew and went for a walk on his own. While he was strolling down the street, he was amazed how much like any American town this colony looked like, as well as noting how great it was to stroll around without having to be worried about cars running by and possibly hitting you. It was dark in the colony, but there were street lights making the ability to walk around easier. The people were very polite as well, just saying hello and moving on, not doing anything to bother the new visitor. It wasn’t until about twenty minutes after Nathan left the house that someone walked up to speak with him
“Excuse me,” the young lady asked, as she seemed to be only a little older than he was. “Aren’t you one of the new visitors?”
“I am,” Nathan said, extending a hand, “I’m Nathan.”
“Jessica,” the young lady replied, “Are you lost?”
“No, I’m just wandering around.” Nathan told her, “I find it easier to look around without everyone around at night. I’m also having trouble sleeping; this is all just so exciting.”
“I can imagine,” Jessica said, gesturing to her left. “There’s a really nice park on this side where you can look at the stars and sometimes the moons. Let me show you.”
“Sure,” Nathan said, following her.
He followed her to the other side and like she had said, there was a park that a lot of kids enjoyed using during the day, but at night it was especially nice for looking up through the glass dome and at the brightly lit stars above. They walked over to a nice patch and laid down on the grass so they could keep looking up.
“This is amazing,” Nathan said, still looking up, “the same stars, but seen from a different part of the galaxy.”
“It’s a perk, I won’t deny it.” Jessica replied, “one some nights, we can even see Earth but we have to use a telescope.”
Nathan sat up and looked back at her, “Do you miss Earth? You were old enough to remember it.”
“I do sometimes,” Jessica replied, “I miss watching new television shows.”
“Oh I got that covered,” Nathan said, laughing. “We brought data cubes with most of the shows that have aired over the last fourteen years. We also brought over the most popular movies from that time as well.”
“Wow!” Jessica said as she sat up, “That is going to make a lot of people happy.”
“We came in peace,” Nathan continued, “Nothing says it better like coming over with something to watch and goodies.”
“Goodies?” Jessica repeated.
“Candies for the kids,” Nathan answered, “we brought a few boxes full. Not too much because we needed the space for our rations for the trip. We kind of ate some of the candy on the way too.”
Jessica laughed, “I’m not sure I could resist that temptation either.”
“There’s still plenty left,” Nathan said as he lay back down.
“Why are you here?” Jessica then asked.
Nathan sat back up. “We came here to find you, make sure things were well and actually confirm you were out here.”
“Not why you’re all here,” Jessica corrected, “Why are you here. What is your motivation for making this long journey?”
“My sanity,” Nathan said, laying back down. “When I was ten years old, I was in the desert when the last Stargazer lifted off into the sky. My dad was in the bathroom, and the gas attendant was in the store ringing someone up. By the time anyone else had come out to see, the ship was already in the clouds and gone. The government covered it all up, dismissed any claims of a massive ship or ships leaving orbit. They even went as far to say that they were weapons tests to attack the asteroid. I never believed them; I knew what I saw. It didn’t matter how many kids call me crazy or how many people called me a conspiracy nut, that image is forever burned into my brain.”
“That was the Elpis you saw taking off.” Jessica told him.
“How do you know that?” Nathan asked.
“Three reasons,” Jessica started, “The first being that the Elpis was the only Stargazer to take off in broad daylight. The other ships all left orbit in the middle of the night when less eyes were watching. Second, The Elpis was the last ship to leave because it was carrying our most precious cargo: the people. This brings us to reason number three; I was on that ship the day it lifted off.”
“I wanted to see that ship again,” Nathan admitted to her, “Just to prove to myself that it really existed. That I was right all those years and everyone else who was challenging me was wrong.”
“It’s still here.” Jessica said, smiling to him. “It’s on the other side, but it’s attached to the dome’s left side. It was decommissioned and turned in to research facility for the advancement of our technology in all fields. I’d be happy to take you on a tour of it tomorrow.”
“That would be awesome.” Nathan replied, exited he would finally see the same ship he spotted as a child all those years ago. A chance for the closure he hoped for but never thought he’d ever get.
“It’d be my pleasure,” she told him, laying back down to adore the stars. “I’m sorry your ship was taken apart. Our military personal are very edgy and are fearful of all things that enter our area without consent.”
“I don’t mind,” Nathan said, as he also layed back down. “As long as I get it back or get something of equal or greater value.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged.” Jessica replied.
“What exactly where they looking for?” Nathan asked.
“A bomb,” Jessica answered.
Nathan sat back up upon hearing that word, as he thought back about what he had seen earlier that week when he was on the carrier. “The crater, that didn’t look natural to me. What happened out there?”
“About four years after we turned off all contact with Earth, the planet was visited by a probe.” Jessica started to tell him, “It had NASA logos on it and seemed harmless from a distance but as it got closer, the radiation scales went off scale. Whatever was inside that thing was radioactive.”
“Holy shit,” Nathan said, as he could hardly believe it.
“It was a warhead,” Jessica confirmed for him, “We tried to take it out with the Star Shooters, but it was difficult to hit. When we did hit it, the shots were barely causing any damage. It was heavily armored and making a bee line right for our colony.”
“That’s awful,” Nathan said, disgusted by the thought. “How were you able to divert the attack?”
“One of our pilots took matters into his own hands.” Jessica answered, “He rammed the probe at top speed. The impact destroyed his ship and killed him, but did enough damage to the probe to knock it off course and save the colony.”
“I’m a fighter pilot myself,” Nathan admitted, “And that has to be the most courageous thing I’ve ever heard.”
“It was incredibly brave of him,” Jessica admitted, “The bomb still hit the planet, but was way off course because of the collision with the star shooter. That large crater you passed by on your way here, that was cause by the probe which had a payload we estimated to be around thirty kilotons.”
“Damn, that must have caused a big bang.” Nathan said, “Was the colony damaged by the blast?”
“Only from the tremors is caused when hitting the ground,” Jessica answered, “We had to leave all the windows shielded for the better part of a year, to protect the colony from fall out. It was an attack that startled most of the colony. Despite our earlier decision to never use or create them, the station above us is not armed with missiles only to be used if that kind of attack occurs again.”
“Did it ever happen again?” Nathan asked.
“No, it didn’t.” She answered, “That blast must have been so close, that assumed we were destroyed and chose not to waste anymore nukes.”
“That explains why you guys were so nervous when we arrived,” Nathan observed, “And also why you’re tearing our ship apart.”
“We just had to be sure,” she answered, “A lot of us have been rather paranoid about Earth every since that incident.”
“I don’t blame you one bit,” Nathan replied, “I’m disgusted to hear something like that happened at all. The people of Earth would be upset to hear it too. They would call for those responsible to face justice.”
“We’re past that,” Jessica said, “We are just happy there were no more incidents after the first attempt.”
“On behalf of my world,” Nathan said to her, “I’m very sorry that happened at all. There is no excuse to justify that kind of bitter response.”
“Thank you,” Jessica replied, “I appreciate that. This is why many of us are still hesitant to re-establish relations with Earth.”
“You’ve been thinking about doing that?” Nathan asked.
“That’s the purpose of Stargazer Ten,” She explained to him, “Its purpose is to return to earth. That’s what Doctor Saunders said about giving you a life if you wanted one. After your peaceful appearance, I doubt you’d be denied placement if you asked for it. Your media intel is going to be heavily scrutinized by the council when making their final decision about sending that massive vessel to Earth.”
“The people who attacked you,” Nathan responded, “They are no longer in office. That’s why I think there were no more additional attacks. The President who took over years after you left was a pacifist. A strong champion of diplomacy, and I’m sure she would never authorize any kind of strike, especially when she was responsible for destroying over half of the US arsenal before her first term ended.”
“I believe you,” Jessica replied, “She sounds amazing.”
“When I get the media box back,” Nathan continued, “I’ll show you the footage from her election year and her victory. You’ll find it very inspiring.”
“That sounds like a great idea.” Jessica replied as she started to stand up. “Ive got to get back to the house. I have a busy day tomorrow. I know where you’re staying so I’ll get back to you about that tour so you can see the Elpis, and you guys can get reacquainted again.”
“You said you were a fighter pilot?” Jessica asked.
“I am,” Nathan answered as he also got up, “That’s why I was recruited, to pilot our vessel.”
“I’ll speak with the council about letting you take the test,” She told him as she started to walk away.
“What test?” Nathan said as he watched her walk away.
“The Star Shooter test,” Jessica called back, “If you’re half as good as you claim, you could be piloting one by the end of the week.”
Nathan stood there and watched her leave and couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear. His time on the Red Star made that long, cramped trip all worth it as he would finally get to see the ship that he spotted all those years ago. And the news that he might be able to fly in one of those shooters was just icing on an already delicious cake. He made a few celebratory fist pumps while walking back to the house. The next few days were going to be very interesting for him.
It would take another several months for the engineers working on Stargazer Ten to finish working on the massive craft. Compared to the original vessel that brought them all to the planet, Stargazer Ten was double the size of the Eplis, making it a very intimidating ship since the metal hull was dark as it was being made of Martian Metal. Since their ship was no longer functional Nathan, Samantha and Gregory all integrated into life on Red Star, taking positions their backgrounds would allow them to make the biggest contribution possible. Sam had medical experience, which was why she was chosen; to provide medical attention during the trip if necessary. This allowed her to volunteer to help at the hospital. Gregory was a know it all when it came to the media boxes, so he was assigned to help go through all the material on them as well as answer any questions the council might have about the boxes or its materials. For Nathan, there was never any doubt what he was going to do. He took the tests that all citizens had to take to qualify for Star Shooter training, and he smoked them all. Even set new records for some of them, which impressed the hell out of everyone. Nathan’s experience with the air force was easily noticed by the other pilots and they all watched with amazement as he aced every simulation they could throw at him. It was clear that not only was Nathan an exceptional pilot, he was almost better than every other pilot that the colony had. The day Nathan got to test a Star Shooter for the first time, he had a colony pilot to observe or take over if necessary. It wasn’t necessary because Nathan has zero issues whipping his shooter all over the place. Making one spectacular maneuver after another that wowed the people who were watching inside the dome. When taking the outdoor obstacle course, which was the final test to be cleared to be a full time pilot, Nathan not only passed it but set a new record for time. When he flew the shooter back into the Hanger within the Eplis’ hull, there was a massive crowd waiting for him in the hanger, cheering him on as he touched down. When he jumped off the plane, Jessica happened to be there as she ran over and planted a big kiss on him, which was almost as great as flying the shooter, possibly better. Moments later, Eric Saunders strolled over, with an interesting look on his face.
“Is there something wrong, Sir?” Nathan asked, saluting the old man.
The old man grunted before responding. “I see you’ve met my daughter.”
Nathan was speechless for a change, but felt better when Eric smiled back at him and then patted him on the shoulder.
“That’s some flying you did there kid,” Eric said as he also patted the hull of the shooter. “What do you think of my creation?”
“You created these ships?” Nathan asked, shocked.
“Not exactly,” Jessica answered for the old man, “All the engines on the shooters and the Stargazers were invented by him. It wouldn’t have been possible for any of us to be here if it wasn’t for him.”
“It’s quite amazing, Sir.” Nathan said, turning back to Eric. “That little bugger was clocking some serious speeds that would make every pilot back home greener than hulk with sheer envy.”
“So I take it you’d like a job flying these all the time?” Eric asked, “Doing patrols and keeping Red Star safe from all threats?”
“It would be an honor.” Nathan replied.
“Then here you go,” Eric said, handing him a set of keys.
“What is this?” Nathan asked the old man.
“The keys to your new home,” Eric answered, “Right here in the Eplis.”
“Wait, I get to live here in this Stargazer?” Nathan said, shocked again.
“All pilots live here,” Eric replied, “So if something hits the fan, they can assemble as quickly as possible. It’s like making the firemen live in the firehouse.”
“That makes perfect sense,” Nathan said, smiling back at him. “It’s just ironic that this ship is going to be my new home. The very ship that I saw when I was young is not where I’m going to live for the next while.”
“After watching that test flight,” Drummond said as he stepped in, “I personally hope you never leave. You are one of the best pilots I’ve ever seen fly a shooter.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Nathan said, saluting a superior officer. “It would be an honor to do my part to protect Red Star.”
“You’ll fit in just fine,” Drummond said as he padded the pilot’s shoulder.
For the next several months, Nathan did exactly what he said he’d do and used his advanced skills to protect the colony, doing his patrols with great care. It was his trips to the observatory that he found the most fun, flying into space and docking with the station and then coming back later that day was always the best mission to get. One afternoon, he was given such an assignment; escorting someone to the station and then back to the surface after his meeting was done. He was surprised to see it was Eric Saunders, helping the old man into the back seat and strapping him in.
“Are you all set, Sir?” Nathan asked.
“All set.” Eric confirmed.
Moments later, the star shooter fired out of the Elpis like a bullet and zipped along the ground before rising in altitude to make the trip to the station.
“Not too bumpy,” Eric called from the back.
“Sorry,” Nathan answered, as he eased things down a bit to make the ride a little smoother. “Anything important going on at the observatory today, Sir?”
“Just final details before launching Stargazer Ten,” Eric explained, “We will be leaving for Earth very soon.”
“Did my crew and I have something to do with that?” Nathan inquired.
“It did,” Eric confirmed, “Reviewing your media files allowed us to determine the risk of going back as well as what world leaders to reach out to first.”
“Glad to be of any service,” Nathan said as the star shooter was leaving the red planet’s atmosphere. “So when will my shooter and I be moving over to the big rig?”
“You’re not,” Eric answered, “At least I don’t want you to.”
“Excuse me?” Nathan said, surprised by what he heard.
“It’s not you,” Eric started to explain. “I’m going to be worried about the colony the entire time I’m away. If you were to stay here and watch over everyone during that time, I would feel much better going forth. If you could do that for me, it would allow me to focus on the mission at hand knowing I you’ve got things handled here.”
“I’d be honoured to, Sir.” Nathan said, “This place will be in the same shape you left it, maybe even better.”
“I have a feeling your motive for staying is a lot more personal.” Eric retorted.
“It is,” Nathan confessed, “Is that going to be a problem?”
“No, it’s not.” Eric said, smiling back at him. “You’re a fine man and you have my blessing if you want it.”
“I do want it,” Nathan confirmed, “But thank you for saving me the nerves of asking for it first.”
Things were rather quiet after that as Nathan concentrated on landing the shooter at the station and then helping Eric out of the cockpit and to his meeting before heading back to the hanger to wait for him. The trip back was even quieter, but Nathan assumed it was just because the old man was tired. He didn’t see the old man again until the day before for Stargazer Ten was to leave. He stayed over for dinner and while it got teary eyed sometimes, Jessica was so proud of what his father was doing. The council had all the confidence in the world where Eric Saunders was concerned, to the point where they nominated him the commander of the last Stargazer. Eric liked the idea of being in charge of the mission, so he accepted the position.
Jessica and Nathan were in the crowd, watching the ship take off and start to rise into space. To Nathan it was déjà vu, as he got to watch the big Stargazer vessel lift off again like he had when the Elpis take off. He put his arms around Jessica and they both watched together as the ship disappeared into space, on its way back home to re-establish political ties with their home world. Nathan was unsure how things would go, but knew that it would be hard for Earth to turn down any offers that might be coming from the man that invented the engines that made travelling to colonize Mars remotely possible. He would offer Earth a chance to use his tech to become space explorers if they agreed to not attack or attempt retake the Mars Colony and recognize them as a independent colony, with no attachments to any nations on Earth and completely self sufficient. This would give Eric the leverage he needed to negotiate a treaty with Earth and ensure that no one would ever attempt to harm the colony again. It was a risky mission, but as the ship left orbit and started to make the five month trip back to Earth, he was confident things would work out.
Nathan turned to face Jessica, and he wiped a tear from her cheek before giving his future wife a big hug.
“Do you think he’ll be alright?” He asked her.
“Dad will be fine,” Jessica replied.
“I still have time before my patrol,” Nathan told her, as he took he hand into his own. “We should walk around the park, and just lay in the grass.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Jessica said as they both started to walk off, away from the crowd that was still looking for the Stargazer vessel that just lifted off into space.
It wouldn’t be for several months before Eric would get in touch with the Colony, but it was to inform them that a peace had been negotiated and that was cause for celebration on the Red Star colony. The other good news was that Earth also negotiated for the right to citizens to travel to mars in the future, in controlled numbers. This would allow experts in certain fields to visit and even offer assistance if they could to improve life on the colony. In exchanged, there would be the trading of good between the two worlds. Earth sending their supplies and goods and the Martian Metal which Mars had an abundance of, went to Earth for them to use as they saw fit. The most important part was that the home world had accepted the colony as one of their own as their existence was no longer a secret. With relations set and shook over, Eric was confident that the future of the colony was better, with their biggest threat taken out of the picture. With that out of the way, Eric was sure the colony on Mars was secure, which was the one thing he wanted to do before passing on. The man whose engines had made space travel possible died in his sleep while Stargazer Ten was traveling back to Mars. By the time the ship arrived, a massive memorial had been erected in the middle of the colony for their hero. While the people who knew him understood Eric never wouldn’t have wanted something that epic build in his honor, the memorial was more for the people than it was for him. He was their savior, the man who made Red Star possible. The memorial was for generations to come, to be aware of the amazing contributions Eric made for them, for everyone.
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