Into the Great Wide Open

Captain Oscar Hughes, US Space Force, looked around in Control and met with faces that were eager and nervous at the same time. Not that he blamed any of them. He felt the same.

It was time, time to write history.

Eager for taking a step into the history books as being among the very first humans to ever leave the solar system and make the journey to another star, light years away. Nervous for it happening in a spacecraft that hadn’t proven itself yet.

Yes, many things had been tested, even out in the field. But still, this was the maiden voyage, who knew what would be awaiting them? Would the craft hold for this long a distance? So many things still could go wrong. If it went wrong out there, home wouldn’t even know it for a long time. Now was not the time to think of that. Oscar shook off the thought.

Oscars glance stopped at the unflappable commander of the Beagle, Turver Inerak, a Quetzal.

Even after almost two years of getting to know him and the other crewmembers and working closely with him during the intense training and preparation for this mission, it still felt strange that it wasn’t a human, but a Quetzal, an alien, who would be in command of humanity’s first interstellar spacecraft. However, Turver was more experienced in commanding an interstellar spacecraft than any human, which was obvious. Also he was a veteran of the Final War, who saw the destruction of the Quetzal and Turukal homeworlds.

The last bit worried Oscar a little. While he had gotten to know the Quetzal a little better, he still wondered if Turver would remain stable and level headed, should they come across armed opposition. Then again Turver had been picked by his superiors as being the best out of a large group of volunteers.

“Final check,” Turver announced and glanced up, his upper arms placed on top of his lower set of displays as he looked around.

Control was a design choice that made use of the experience humanity had made during the past thirty years with larger spacecraft, as well as taking those of the Quetzal and Turukal into account. Control was located on one of the gravity rings and as such moving around and relatively secure. Seven identical control stations were arrayed in a circle around a central volumetric display that showed various general information, while the lower and upper display sets showed the crew the specialized data they needed for their respective tasks.

“Communication.”

Xun Zhen Huang, Captain of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Space Arm, was currently responsible for the communication systems of the Beagle. She was a professional to the core and Oscar didn’t remember having seen her smile even once. Then again, he didn’t remember any Chinese, outside of those living in the US, smile all that much.

“All systems green,” she said, her English without any accent and following the checklist that had been developed by NASA all decades ago. “Communication is go.”

Idly he wondered how she would do once they switched areas of responsibility. Once again a political decision. To prevent the other nations from getting more command experience in one area, the humans in the command crew would switch stations every six months to get some experience as well. He knew as a fact that everyone was writing down reports on their duties, ready to be used in teaching other command crews.

“Guidance.”

Oscar took a deep breath. Guidance was his resort for the next six months and he was determined to do a better job than the others. Just as they were determined to do a better job than him.

He looked at his displays for a few moments. All systems showed status green. The navigation systems were set to their destination. After their FTL transit they were going to return to normal space 6 AU from the star to account for galactic drift.

“All systems green,” he responded. “Course is set. Guidance is go.”

Turver nodded and turned to the next station.

“Life Support.”

Life Support was perhaps the most important station of the entire spacecraft. Without it the mission was a failure and everyone was going to die. At the moment it was under the supervision of Viktor Matveev, a Captain of the Soviet Air Force.

Surprisingly, Oscar got along with him quite nicely. Viktor was, while a rather convinced communist, largely unpolitical. He was also not quite following the stereotype most Americans had of Soviets or Russians. He didn’t like alcohol and while he liked a good laugh, he was more for the subtle humor and quite an optimist when it came to the future.

“All systems show green,” Viktor noted matter of factly. “Life Support is green.”

“Good. And we can always blame it on the Soviet if it turns out otherwise” Oscar added with a grin, trying to break the tense atmosphere, and then continued following Commander Turvers face to the next. At least it got a snort out of Viktor and a crack of a smile from Manuela.

“Payload.”

Payload was dealing with all the systems of the scientific payload, as well as the two Hawk spacecraft the Beagle was carrying for short ranged science missions. Dayaram Bandyopadhyay, a Captain of the Indian Air Force, was in control of that part of the payload right now.

Dayaram looked like he had stepped right off the set of a Bollywood movie. He had a build that made Oscar jealous and, while happily married, was the target of more than one woman in bars dirtside.

He was a nice guy and Oscar could get along with him.

“Hawks are secured. All deployables are secured. Scientific equipment secured. All systems show green. Payload is go.”

“Defense.”

That was something that didn’t sit too well with some part of the politicos back on Earth and the majority of the scientists. Weapons were not good for the image mankind would present if the Beagle managed to run into more aliens, they said.

Not to be able to defend themselves should the need arise was worse. Most of the crew was military personnel, and they rather had something to shoot back at any alien then be forced to run, Oscar included.

“All weapons are in safe mode,” Manuela Wegener, a Brazilian Air Force Captain said. “Nuclear devices are secured. All systems show green. Weapons is go.”

Oscar sighed again. Last thing they needed was a nuke exploding on transit.

“Engineering,” Turver continued and everyone turned towards the last station.

Alex Henri Fabien sat behind it, a Belgian Captain of EuroForce. This was what he was good at. Alex was an engineer and had been involved in the development of the Heim-Feynman Event Generator and only the head engineer knew it better.

This man was a workaholic and there was barely a moment where he didn’t find something to work on or things to look after. If he wasn’t in Control, he was in Engineering, trying to optimize the software or do other tweaks.

“Vibrations of the rings are within nominal parameters. Diversion in radial velocities lower than point zero zero zero rad per second. Magnetic fields stable.”

He rattled down a multitude of informations, most of which went straight over Oscars head.

Turver gave Fabien an annoyed look. Oscar could understand Turver’s annoyance. Fabien was a very annoying individual and got on everyones nerves. And Turver didn’t like the man at all…

“Go or no go,” he asked, just a hint of annoyance in his voice.

Fabien looked up in annoyance of his own.

“Engineering go,” he finally said and Turver nodded.

“Communication,” he continued a moment later. “Message to Earth. All systems are go. We will begin with the FTL transit in five minutes. Also request a command link from Pioneer for the duration of the transfer.”

Xun nodded and typed on her console. Oscar knew that she had already prepared both messages to Earth and the Pioneer and was now only sending them.

“Message sent,” she confirmed after a moment. “Pioneer has opened the command link. We are in control of Pioneer. All systems on Pioneer are go.”

“Very well,” Turver noted as he checked the security harness of his seat again and closed his eyes, most likely to send one last prayer to whatever god he believed in for protection from the human FTL core.

“Now then, let us bring yous species to the stars, shall we?” he said as he opened his eyes again.

Oscar closed his eyes for a moment as well, thinking of what would come next. The computer systems were responsible for the entire FTL transition and the only people who could stop it were Fabien and the head of engineering. Oscar himself could do little.

As he looked at his displays again he only confirmed that everything was green.

The minutes counting down to the FTL transit seemed to drag on for hours as the tension on Control rose.

“Ten,” Fabien finally began to count. “Nine.”

There was a whine that suddenly filled the air and Oscar looked up. Around him the others looked up as well. He had read the report of David Wilkins, the first human to do an FTL transit to the other side of the solar system. Wilkins had reported that the atmosphere had seemed to whine during just before the transition event and for a few seconds afterwards. However the microphones in the cabin hadn’t been able to record it.

No one, not even the Quetzal and Turukal, was exactly sure what the whine was, but it was there. As far as the aliens were concerned, it was a normal part of the operation of the FTL core.

“One.”

The next moment Oscar felt like he was ripped apart and spread into every part of the universe at once, while the whine turned into a loud rumbling noise that threatened to burst his eardrum.

It lasted only for a moment, before everything went back to normal. At least nearly so.

Oscar closed his eyes for a moment, before an eerie feeling of being watched made itself known. He looked around, with only Viktor giving him an inquisitive look after a moment.

Another moment later he felt like his shoulder was touched by a cold hand. His own hand shot up to his shoulder, feeling nothing. He looked around, but there was nothing.

Oscar closed his eyes again and breathed in deep.

Just a hallucination, he told himself. Just a product of his stress. Yes that was it. Only the stress.

He quickly shook his head and then grinned nervously.

“Proxima Centauri, here we come.”

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