The Road to the Stars – Chapter FIVE

First Flights are special.

This one was truly memorable; it was the initial departure for the Enterprise from the construction yards, and the first test of the warp drive in space.

I loved it.

I’ve talked to many of the people who were aboard her and to a person they all hold this as one of their all-time favorite memories.

I’ve been back on the same course a couple times, and still nothing compares to my first sight of Jupiter from space.

After you finish reading this, there’s an audio sample at the end. You can click on any image to purchase the book if you don’t feel like waiting for the next chapter, as well.

Chapter Five

“All stations, report readiness.” Commander Stewart was standing, still savoring the sensation, having given her chair to Kendra for the official launch.

One by one, the bridge crew checked in.

“Engineering, check. Sublight power ready at your discretion. Warp drive spun up.” Engineer Anderson was at her station in the secondary hull, along with Dr. Roberts. A junior engineer, Jess Morgan, sat at the astrogator’s console.

“Astrogation, check. Clear of all traffic for fifty k kliks,” reported Lt. Seabolt, sitting to the right of Morgan.

“Helm, check. Ready to lay in course. All systems show green,” said Elliott Kay, on the other side of Morgan.

“Science, check. All sensors online,” Cass reported from her station at the rear of the bridge, Dr. Zihal – though she was trying hard to think of her as Lt. Zihal, and herself as Lieutenant Commander – next to her.

“Tactical, check. Deflectors ready for full power. Phased particle emitters charged,” Lieutenant Commander Sanzari said from behind the command seats. “Commander Kleve reports Wolfpack Division One standing by, Wolfpack Division Two at plus five, Wolfpack Division Three at alternate duty posts. All decks report ready for departure.” Division One could lift off any time, Division Two would need five minutes to power up and prepare.

“Very good. Captain, all stations report ready.”

“Thank you, Commander,” Alley said, formally. “Admiral, would you like to do the honors?”

Kendra was sorely tempted, but, with great difficulty, resisted. “Your ship, Captain. Your honor.”

With a nod, Alley said, “Minerva, open a channel to Diana.”

“Channel open.”

Diana, this is Enterprise. Request permission for departure.”

“Roger, Enterprise,” returned Kyran’s voice. “You are clear for departure. Don’t bend my ship!”

Chuckling, Alley said, “We’ll try not to, Diana. Out.”

She took a deep breath.

“Helm. Ahead, dead slow, until we clear the dock.”

“Ahead dead slow, aye.” Kay moved his hands over the controls, and there was a subtle change in the air. It wasn’t anything any of the crew could quantify, or specifically point to, but it was definitely there: a shift from dream to reality, from potential to action, from inert to fully alive and eager.

The scene on the viewscreen began to change.

Kendra’s grin threatened to split her face.

In only a few seconds they were clear of the dock’s encircling arms for the first time.

“Course, Captain?”

Alley looked again to Kendra. This time, she gave in to temptation.

“Second star to the right, and straight on ‘til morning,” she said airily.

“Captain?” said a confused Kay.

“I think what the Admiral means is your discretion, Helm,” clarified Alley. “Galactic South, 90, 0, 0; let’s get out of the ecliptic. After that, just try not to run into anything.”

“Aye, Captain. Speed?”

“One-quarter sublight.”

“One-quarter sublight, aye.” The starfield shifted as the ship angled “down”, away from most of the major system objects.

“Sensors?” asked Alley.

“Sensors report all clear for two light-minutes,” answered Cass. At one-quarter sublight, the Enterprise would cover that distance in just less than ten minutes. Her sensor suite included both gravitic wave and quantum flux detectors, as well as a variety of devices calibrated to detect the various electromagnetic spectra. The output from all these were directed to Minerva, who then translated the information into a form that the human mind could comprehend, including the real-time visual display on the viewscreen.

“Maintain course and speed,” said Alley. “Let’s put some distance between us and Diana before we start getting frisky.”

“Maintain course and speed, aye,” repeated Kay.

Although they were covering nearly sixty thousand kilometers per second, the starfield didn’t seem to change at all. That didn’t mean they weren’t moving, of course, just that the distances to the visible stars were utterly immense. That brought up another thought to Alley.

“Commander Sanzari, how are the shields holding up?”

“Nominal. Engineering is monitoring them and, according to Dr. Roberts, they’re doing, and I quote, ‘exactly what I said they’d do,’ unquote,” answered Sanzari.

“Val’s never had a problem with confidence,” said Kendra.

“Glad she’s able to back up her confidence with performance,” replied Alley. “I’d hate to run into anything at these speeds without shielding. Speaking of which…Helm, increase speed to one-half sublight.”

“One-half sublight, aye.”

The subtle background hum of the engines picked up a notch. The starfield still didn’t visibly change, but now there was just a hint of a sense of speed.

“Maintain course and speed.”

“Maintain course and speed, aye, ma’am.”

“XO, you have the conn. Admiral, would you join me in my ready room?”

“Certainly, Captain,” said Kendra, standing and allowing Stewart to reclaim her seat.

Once the door had closed behind the two, Kendra stopped restraining her grin.

“Zeus’s brass balls, we’re doing it!”

Alley’s grin matched Kendra’s watt-for-watt. “We are that. Did you have a plan for today? I thought I’d ask.”

“Honestly, I’m just so thrilled to be here that I didn’t really plan anything. Do you have some thoughts?”

“Well, this is still a first flight. I don’t think we should push her hard the first time out. Minerva, display current course.”

The Q-Net terminal on the wall lit up with their position relative to Diana.

“How far are we from Diana?”

“Currently the ship is thirty-eight million kilometers from Diana. The distance is increasing at a rate of seven point two million kilometers per minute.”

“That’s just…wow. I mean, I just don’t have words.”

“Huh. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen you speechless,” said Alley. The door chime sounded before Kendra could answer.

“Enter.”

Cass walked in and stopped before Alley’s desk. “Permission to speak, Captain?”

“Oh, knock off the formalities in here,” Alley said. “Hug your wife. I think she’s going into shock.”

“We did it!” exclaimed Kendra, standing and allowing Cass to wrap her in a hug. “We really did it!”

Cass tried to temper Kendra’s enthusiasm. “Let’s hold off on the real celebration until we test the warp drive.”  

Alley thought it a good moment to intercede. “Did you have a report?”

“Yes, Captain.” Cass slipped back into ‘official’ mode. “We have the sensors operating out to twenty light-minutes. We’ve picked up twenty particles of space dust per cubic meter, fifty-two radiation spikes, and a Class Two comet.”

“Fascinating.”

“Lt. Zihal and I were hoping for something a bit more…substantial,” Cass agreed. “Any chance of doing a planetary swing?”

“Funnily enough, we were just discussing our course. Do you have a suggestion?”

Cass went to the Q-Net screen and checked their position. “We don’t want to antagonize the Solarian Union any more than we already have,” she began. “So Luna, Mars, Saturn, and the Asteroids are out. Pluto and Neptune are hell and gone…”

Her voice trailed off as she considered options.

“Jupiter,” she finally announced.

“Oh, that would be cool!” crooned Kendra.

“Why? Not disagreeing, just wondering about your rationale,” asked Alley.

“A few reasons. First, Earth, Mars, and Saturn are all on this side of the sun; Jupiter’s in opposition, so we’re least likely to encounter any Union ships there. Can’t do much about Asteroids, but – Minerva, display known locations of Miner’s Guild bases.” The screen was suddenly speckled with small yellow dots. “There are a half-dozen locations on the opposition side of the Belt, but none particularly close. We’ll see any craft that launch and be well away before they can begin to close. Second, we’re far enough out of the ecliptic now to have a largely debris-free run to Jupiter. Third, we want to test systems, and doing a speed run to Jupiter would give us a chance to give the sublight engines a good workout, along with the shields and navigation.” She stopped and thought. “We could head in-system, towards Venus, but I know I’d rather test the shields against Jupiter’s magnetosphere before I tried to close with Sol. And if we’re going to linger for any time, I’d suggest a polar orbit instead of equatorial.”

“Oh? Why?”

“You want the long version, or quick and dirty?”

“Quick and dirty for now, but I’ll want the long version in your logs.”

“Logs? I mean, yes, ma’am. There’s a plasma toroid embedded in the magnetodisc roughly centered on the equatorial plane which I’d rather the ship avoid until we can get clear readings and a proper analysis.”

“Good points, and I even understood them. Mostly. I agree with Kendra, too. Way, way cool. XO.” Minerva noted the change in tone and connected the bridge to the ready room.

“Captain?”

“Set course for Jupiter, close approach and pole-to-pole orbit, then plot a reciprocal course back to Diana, but don’t execute the course until ordered.”

“Set course for Jupiter, aye. Close approach, aye. Pole-to-pole orbit, aye. Reciprocal to Diana, aye. Speed, Captain?”

“Let’s see what she can do. Full sublight. Tell Dr. Roberts she’s going to have to wait a bit yet for a warp test.”

“Full sublight, aye, Captain.”

“Martinez, out.” The connection closed and Alley looked to Kendra. “Suits?”

“I’m just living the dream, Alley.”

“Commander, I expect some high-quality images.”

Cass actually stood to attention. “Yes, ma’am!”

The run to Jupiter, over 780 million kilometers, took just under an hour. Enterprise’s sublight engines were calibrated to achieve 0.8c at full power, a load that they could maintain virtually indefinitely, though, given the fussing they were given by both Dr. Roberts and Engineer Anderson an observer might have been forgiven for thinking they were on the edge of failure. They still had more in reserve, though, and could theoretically be pushed right to the edge of light speed.

As requested, Cass and Dawn captured a plethora of stunning images on the approach. They used all the tools at their disposal to capture them, not just in the visible wavelengths, but false color images of the magnetosphere, gravitic waves, and other even more exotic phenomena.

‘Close approach’ turned out to be within the orbit of Jupiter’s Halo ring and only about fifty thousand kilometers above Jupiter’s cloud tops. The views were spectacular. Passing over the poles allowed them to see Jovian aurorae, brilliant, ghostly, intense blue-white streaks and bands and circles of light within a few degrees of both poles. The Galilean satellites cast ‘reverse shadows’ – bright spots within the aurora which corresponded to their orbital positions.

In all, they spent two hours in Jupiter’s vicinity before Alley ordered them to break orbit. “Galactic North, 90, 0, 0,” she said, choosing to break above the plane of the ecliptic rather than below. Moving out of the Jovian system at half sublight, she called a meeting of her officers.

“Okay, people, I want a rough evaluation of our performance so far. Engineering?”

Anderson had lost the coin flip, so left Dr. Roberts with the engines while she attended the meeting. “Impulse engines nominal, everything within predicted parameters.”

“Medical?”

“Three cases of, I don’t know whether to call it space sickness, or claustrophobia, or maybe a panic attack. One minor injury, a stubbed toe, but we did tell them to report everything.”

“Small craft?”

“Divisions rotating every ninety minutes. Division Three is currently standing by, One at plus five, Two at alternate assignments,” answered Mia. “No mechanical issues.”

“Science?”

“All systems functioning normally, now we’re away from Jupiter. While we were within the magnetosphere, we had a serious degradation on range.”

“How serious?”

“On the run to Jupiter, we achieved thirty light-hours range; within the magnetosphere, that was reduced to twelve light-minutes.”

“Oof. Solution?”

“Not sure. We’ll be working on it.”

“Keep me informed. Tactical?”

“All systems nominal. Just a comment on the sensors?”

“Go ahead.”

“Twelve light-minutes is still over two hundred million kilometers. That’s farther than Earth from Sol. From a tactical standpoint, until someone else builds a faster ship, I think we’re good.” Sanzari offered a smile.

“You’re right, for now,” corrected Alley. “But you can’t only plan for what the enemy can do today; you have to plan for what they might do tomorrow, or next week. Sooner or later, there’s going to be other warp ships, and twelve light-minutes is nothing to one of them.”

“I take your point, ma’am,” Sanzari replied.

“But don’t beat yourself up!” continued Alley. “Yes, you can try to think of what they might do; but you have a firm grasp on what they can do, and that’s going to save our bacon one of these days.”

“Yes, ma’am!” This response was much brighter.

“Good. Well, it sounds like we’re off to a fine start. Commander Anderson, do you think Dr. Roberts could be persuaded to give her warp drive a test?”

 “I think she might be persuaded,” allowed Anderson.

“Make it so. XO, set it up.”

“Aye-aye, ma’am!”

“Let’s be about it, people.”

The next several minutes were purposefully busy. Systems were calibrated, tested, checked, re-checked, and finally turned over to the next person in the division, who did it all over again. Within a surprisingly short period of time, though, every section reported ready.

“We’re green across the board, Captain,” announced Stewart, standing again. “Course laid in and ready to execute on your command.”

“Thank you, XO. Minerva, open a channel, all decks.”

“All decks channel open, Captain.”

“In just a few moments, we are going to attempt – no, scratch that. We will be the first starship to use a warp drive to go faster than the speed of light. Our flight plan calls for one minute building to maximum sublight before we activate the warp drive. We will maintain warp one for two minutes before accelerating to warp two for one minute. If our tame geniuses have done the math right, that will put us in the neighborhood of Earth. Nobody has done this before, but nobody could possibly be better prepared. Do your jobs. Keep an eye on your instruments and equipment. Keep an eye on each other. See you at home. Martinez, out.” She turned to Kendra.

“Admiral, would you care to give the word?”

Kendra took a deep breath, held it, then exhaled. “Captain, the word is given.”

“XO. Maximum sublight.”

“Maximum sublight, aye.”

The acceleration from half sublight to max was still smooth, but there was definitely a sense of strain as the ship passed through full sublight, 0.8c, still accelerating.

“Engineering reports warp drive is primed and ready to activate,” said Stewart.

“Very good, XO. Engage on my mark.” Alley gave the ship a few more seconds of sublight, the pitch and thrum of the engines continuing to rise.

“Warp one. Engage.”

Oddly enough, there was no perceived jump to warp speed. No cliched blur of stars, no technicolor swirl; in fact, the only solid evidence anyone could point to was the sudden drop in the noise from the sublight engines.

“Warp one,” reported Kay.

“Warp field stable,” added Morgan from the Engineering station.

“Shields holding,” said Sanzari.

“Sensors show all clear,” Cass contributed.

“XO?”

“She’s holding together,” said Stewart, who couldn’t hide a grin.

“Dr. Roberts, are we good to go for warp two?”

“No problems on my end,” she said over the opened channel. There was an undeniable edge of triumph in her voice.

“Make it so,” said Alley.

Enterprise slid up to warp two without a shudder, the drive’s pitch rising ever so slightly. Now, the stars and other celestial objects began to carry a bit of visible movement, but still nothing dramatic.

“Holding warp two,” said Morgan.

“Don’t overshoot,” Alley reminded everyone. “Warp two is thirty-two times c; each second carries us almost ten million kilometers. Time to drop out, XO?”

“Drop out in fifteen seconds. Helm, on my mark, drop to warp one.”

“Warp one, aye,” replied Kay.

“Ten.”

“Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Mark.”

“Dropping to warp one.”

“Warp one,” Morgan confirmed.

“Engage sublight engines, drop the drive offline,” came Stewart’s next order.

“Engaging sublight engines,” Kay said, while Morgan added, “Warp drive offline.”

“Status? Position?”

“We’re about thirty light-seconds from Diana,” reported Cass after checking her sensors.

“Engineering? Dr. Roberts, how is the drive?”

“No problems at all,” she reported. “I’ll want to give it a full work-up with the diagnostics, but I’ve got green across the board.”

“XO?”

Stewart, who had been checking in other sections, turned to Alley. “All divisions report green.”

“Nice work, everyone. Mr. Kay, take us back to the barn.”

“Back to Diana, aye.”

“And we’ll be home in time for dinner,” added a hugely grinning Kendra.

The Road to the Stars – Book 2 – Chapter 5

Published by gaffen620

Author of The Cassidy Chronicles. Lives in Colorado with many dogs, cats, and one very patient wife.

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