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Andromeda 

Part One: The Proposal 

Chapter 1

Time: 6:00 a.m.  August 24, 3261  Eastern Time

Place: STAR Administration Building, Tallahassee 

      Before I begin the story, in order to set the stage I need to take you back a few hundred years before it began, to the year 3261, which is known as one of the biggest turning points in the history of space-travel.  It all began with a single man on a hot summer morning, approximately two hundred years after the time of Jon Clark.

      His name was Arthur Romband, and on that morning, he was in a state of near panic as he found himself running late for work.  Romband was senior director of the Science Department of the STAR Administration, and he had about five minutes to get to the weekly Monday meeting of the Administration’s top administrators. 

      The night before, while lying awake in bed and thinking, the elusive answer that he had spent the past few years searching for finally came to him.  It was a moment of clarity that he would remember forever, when everything suddenly hit him like a meteorite through his skull.  He had leapt out of bed and begun working on the calculations immediately.  After a few hours of working out the numbers and realising how simple it all was, he had hopped into his car and driven to the supply warehouse for metal, solar panels, and other odd materials.  From the time he got home until the break of dawn he had worked frivolously to build what he believed would become the most important working model ever built.

      He wouldn’t have been running late if he hadn’t opted to take that little catnap before hopping in the shower.  Now he was driving down the highway doing twice the speed limit, too worried to be excited and too tired to be sleepy.  He found his exit, and pulled off the highway, flooring it as he headed up the road to his building, which he knew the cops never bothered patrolling.

       As he pulled into the parking lot and barrelled into his own reserved parking spot, he thought about what his boss was going to say.  His boss, the chief administrator of the STAR Administration, was what some might call an asshole.  Arriving late to work was one thing, but being late to the weekly Monday meeting was practically a penalty worthy of death.  As he stepped out of his car and glanced at his watch, he noticed it was exactly 6:00 a.m.  From here on in, he wasn’t just running late.  He was late, and every second it took him to reach that conference room was another nail in his proverbial coffin.

      Romband reached into his car and pulled out the briefcase, the contents of which he knew would be his only chance of salvation.  As he ran inside the building and caught the elevator, his mind raced through the possible scenarios of how this could go.  For the most part, he was optimistic.  After all, his calculations were flawless, and his model would serve as all the proof he needed.

      The “ping” of the elevator as it reached his floor sounded to Romband like a trumpet from heaven.  He took off down the hallway, and reached the door to the conference room.  He put his hand on the knob, inhaled deeply, and made his way in.

      His intrusion may not have caused such a disturbance if he had not been so conspicuous about it.  If he had just opened the door quietly, walked in and taken a seat, it might not have mattered so much.  But his fellow employees stared at him, breathing heavily, with sweat pouring from the pores of his forehead.  He looked as if he had just escaped from a man-eating shark.

      Will Smathens, the head of the Recording department, had been talking about his idea for a new telescope which would revolutionise the process of viewing space.  When Romband entered, he stopped in mid-sentence and stood silently, waiting for the boss to begin.

      The boss stood with that all-too-familiar evil-glint in his eye, with his arms folded and his face twisted with the wrinkles of a repressed smile.  After what seemed like hours of awkward silence, the man spoke.  “Excuse me, Mr. Romband, we’re kind of in the middle of a meeting here.  Which reminds me, aren’t you supposed to be at this meeting?  Where were you when it started?”

      Romband began his explanation.  “Well, I…”

      “I don’t want any excuses, Romband!” his boss shouted.  “You were late and all I want is a simple explanation of why.”

      Romband rolled his eyes, knowing exactly what his boss was doing, but without thinking of a way to avoid it without losing his job.  “Well, you see, I…”

      “Listen, maybe you didn’t understand.  What I want is…”

      “I may have discovered the secret to interstellar travel!” Romband blurted.  The silence that existed in the room now made the previous silence seem like the noise at a construction site.  A pin dropping would have sounded like a sledgehammer through glass.  Interstellar travel meant the ability to explore space beyond the solar system.  All eyes in the room were glued to Romband as his own eyes went around the room studying those of everyone else until they arrived at his boss’s.  These eyes were glaring at him with a look that would have made Lucifer shudder.

      “I’m listening,” his boss said, as though he had already told Romband to talk.

      Romband cleared his throat and began to speak, assuming that this time he was going to be allowed to get more than a sentence in.  “I was up last night testing out my theory.”

      “And what was that?”  His boss could not stand letting his employee talk without interrupting him after each sentence.  “I suppose you were going to make us guess what…”

      “Would you just let me finish?!” Romband yelled, having had enough of his boss’s antics.  His boss widened his eyes, held out his hands and took a seat, his facial expression one of extreme impatience, as if there were more important matters to attend to.

      “As I was saying,” Romband continued, “I was up all last night testing my theory of interstellar travel.  The premise is simple.  If we gather light from stars, we could use the energy from it to reach the speed of light.  And if we stored all that energy, duplicated it, and released it all at once, we could travel even faster than the speed of light.”  He stopped, and waited for his boss to say something.  To the surprise of nobody, he did.

      “That theory’s been tried for centuries, Romband.  It doesn’t work!”

      Romband smiled.  “Just take a look at these calculations.”  He handed his boss a sheet of paper filled with figures, including the speed of light and the energy from light given by relativity.  All the figures were put together to give the simple answer that you can indeed use light to travel as fast as light, and faster.

      His boss stared at the paper for what seemed like twenty minutes before opening his mouth again.  “This is the most insane pile of bullshit I’ve ever laid my eyes upon,” he said.  “Yes, it is possible to use solar energy to power a vehicle.  That’s how we power our cars today.  And yes, it is possible to harness that energy, duplicate it, and use it to travel faster than you could if you didn’t.  But Einstein’s theory clearly tells us that nothing can travel faster than light.”

      Now, of course, Arthur Romband’s theory was total bullshit.  At least it would be nowadays.  But things back in the fourth millennium were much different than they are now.  Arthur’s calculations worked perfectly in the time he lived in.  It may not be possible to travel faster than light now, but back then it was only impossible because they believed it was.

      Romband continued his explanation.  “Yes, but light from many different sources other than the sun could boost you so far and so fast that you would be travelling faster than the source of your energy.  Take fuel.  Fuel is a liquid, and it can move at a certain speed, but our spacecrafts can and do move faster than the fuel we pour into them.  Why can’t we do that with light?”

      “This is just a bunch of bullshit,” his boss said.  “Light is not a liquid.”

      “Look, I know it sounds dumb, and maybe the fuel analogy was kind of stupid, but you have to understand that there’s more to the universe than we can possibly comprehend.  I’ll admit that from a 3-dimensional standpoint, an object’s mass becomes infinite at the speed of light C, so you can’t exceed it.  Look at it from a 4-dimensional standpoint, and it appears that at C, time doesn’t even move.  But what if light itself holds the key to breaking its own barriers?  Why can’t we send a spaceship out at speeds faster than C, and its mass not be infinite and time not slowing to nothing.  Perhaps in a 5-dimensional space-time, that’s possible.  That’s the premise these numbers work on.”  Romband stopped for a moment, and noticed that he was reaching his co-workers, even if his boss wasn’t listening.  “I have a model rocket in my briefcase.  If you’ll just come outside to the field I can show you how my theory works.”  Romband tried hard to sound like a pal in making this offer.

      “It’s just a waste of time!” his boss shouted.  “I’ll have nothing to do with it.”

      Finally, Romband gave up.  He could see that he wasn’t going to get anywhere with his boss at this meeting, so he just sat down, his fellow employees shooting him some covert looks of sympathy.  Will Smathens was told to go on with his super-telescope idea, which his boss also decided was nothing but a big pile of bullshit. 

      That night, Arthur Romband returned to the STAR Administration building, with his briefcase, a camcorder, and a tripod.

      The building was located in Tallahassee, although at this time, the city was much larger than it is today.  Its area covered the entire northern half of the Florida peninsula, with its borders stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.  In the fourth millennium, Earth was not divided into countries and states, but only cities, and of these there were only about two hundred.  The building was located on the south-eastern edge of the city, just next to the Atlantic Ocean, and only a few miles north of Cape Canaveral, which was located in the city that made up the entire southern half of the Florida peninsula, Miami.

      The vast field of grass that surrounded the building was referred to as “The STAR Field,” and was divided into four sections.  The first of these sections was the parking lot, still considered a part of the field even though the only grass in it existed on the islands between the rows of parking spaces.  The second half was the bare field, which was completely empty aside from a few observatories here and there.  The other two sections of the field bordered the Atlantic.  The first of these was the northernmost quadrant, and was exclusive to the launching and landing of Space Shuttles.  The other was the multi-facility field, from which all other spacecrafts were launched and landed.

      Romband now made his way to the centre of the bare field, and set his equipment down.  He put the camcorder on the tripod, opened his briefcase, and took his model rocket out.  It looked like nothing more than a 4×4×12 metal box with thrusters and a solar panel, with just an odometer and a computer inside.  Romband reached over to the camera and turned it on.  He then began to narrate.

      “Hi, I’m Arthur Romband, and I’m about to show you how my theory of interstellar travel works.” Romband was making the tape for his boss in particular, but he figured if his experiment was a success, this tape could become a piece of history, showed to high-school students everywhere for generations to come.

      “This little piece of scrap metal here which I assembled last night is about to become the first interstellar rocket ever built.  I have programmed in its little flight computer a flight plan that will take it out of the solar system and well on its way to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, all in the span of about five minutes.  It will then turn around and return to this very spot, also in only five minutes.”

      The first thing Romband did was open the rocket and take out the odometer, which currently read zero.  He did this in the way that a magician shows his audience that what he holds in his hand is nothing more than “an ordinary deck of cards.”  He then put it back in the rocket, and took out two digital clocks and showed them to the camera.  After showing that the two clocks were perfectly synchronised in time, he kept one of them and placed the other back inside the rocket, closing it tightly.

      “I will now begin the process which will give it the energy to carry out this task.”  Romband set the rocket down on the grass and pressed a button on the outer frame.  Immediately, the solar panels began to glow, and they grew brighter and brighter.  “The solar panels are now taking in all of the energy from the light of the stars, and the light from the sun that’s being reflected by the moon.  All of this stored energy will give it the ability to travel faster than the light that it’s using.  This material has the capacity to exceed to speed of light by 60 times.  So if a person were on the rocket, this 10-minute trip would seem to go by in only 10 seconds as he will be travelling 60 times faster than light.”

      Once the solar panels were glowing with energy, Romband continued.  “I will now press the button once more, which will instruct the computer to carry out the next part of the flight-plan, and continue carrying out each step until it’s finished.”  Romband leaned over and pressed the button again but nothing happened.  Romband grabbed the camera and ran with it.

      “The first instruction is to do nothing for ten seconds, after which it will carry out the next part of the flight-plan, which is to thrust at full power.  That’s 60 seconds—or 1 minute—per second.  At that time it will blast out the energy from all the light it has collected, which will launch it so far into space that it’ll be out of sight in a matter of seconds.”  If Romband had actually used scrap metal as he said he did, this amount of acceleration would kill the rocket, but he actually used the very expensive new metal developed by STAR over a hundred years ago that could withstand any force of acceleration as well as any atmospheric conditions.

      Romband looked through the viewfinder of the camera and pointed it straight at the rockets as the sweat dripped from his forehead.  He had not kept count of the time since he pressed the button, but he knew the launch would take place any second, and that piece of metal would travel faster than any object in existence had ever gone before.

      With a sudden flash of light, the rocket burst forth from the ground and broke out of the atmosphere far quicker than Romband could perceive it.  To him, there was just a flash, and the rocket was gone.  He took a second to regain his composure, then set the camera back on the tripod and continued to narrate.

      “The flight plan is simple,” he began.  “The rocket will thrust for 5 minutes in the direction of Alpha Centauri.  This simply means it will be spewing out the energy it’s stored and heading towards the star until the computer tells it to stop.  The 5-minute thrusting period will of course only take 5 seconds to the rocket.

      “The second step of the flight plan is to coast for one minute.  The rocket will be heading at maximum velocity towards the Alpha Centauri system for 5 minutes Earth-time, which should be enough to bring it a close but safe distance from the star.

      “The third instruction is a turnover, which will simply point the rocket away from Alpha Centauri, and back towards us.  In programming this heading, I’ve factored in the rotation of the earth and other variable so it should be so accurate and precise that the rocket will come down to almost the same exact spot it was launched from.

      “Instruction four is another period of thrust which will last for just a little over one minute, and will cancel the velocity it has towards the Alpha Centauri system and give it the propulsion it needs to return.  The fifth instruction is another coast, which should take it back to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere in about two minutes.

      “Finally, when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it will deploy a parachute, which I can only hope works properly, or it will shatter into millions of tiny fragments as it hits the ground and destroys all of my evidence, save for this tape which doesn’t really prove anything.”

      Romband kept an eye on his watch as he spent the rest of his narration explaining the technical aspects of how the solar panels work, and how the equations point to the fact that by using duplicated light energy you can travel faster than light. 

      “Alpha Centauri is about 40 trillion kilometres away.  The speed of light is 300 thousand kilometres per second, which means it would take 4 ½ years for light to reach it.  Since the rocket is travelling 60 times faster it will be going 18 million kilometres per second.  In five minutes it will have covered about 5 and a half billion kilometres, which is about 1 hundredth of one percent of the distance to Alpha Centauri.  If everything works, the rocket should cover a total distance of a little less than 11 billion kilometres.

      “At the speed of light, it would take four and a half years to reach Alpha Centauri.  At this speed, it will only take 21 days.”

      The moment of truth was approaching.  If the universe had only 3 or 4 dimensions, and at C the rocket’s mass had become infinite, Romband would never see that hunk of metal again.  But if the universe was 5-dimensional or more, Romband’s theories were correct and an aspect of light energy that would never be comprehended by the human mind would allow the rocket to boost beyond C and stay intact.  It all depended on whether or not the rocket would return.

      In a few moments Romband saw a light appear in the sky, and he grabbed a towel out of his briefcase.  He said nothing to the camera as he kept his head pointed straight up at the sky, and moved around in search of the right position.  Finally, the rocket came down at a fast but comfortable pace and Romband let out a shout as he caught it with the towel, thus preventing any injuries an impact would have caused it.  He then quickly set it down as the towel began to smoke.

      “That’s one small catch for man; one giant capture for mankind.  It’s too bad this wasn’t broadcast live.”  Romband threw everything except for the rocket back in the briefcase, and turned back to the camera one last time.  “When it cools down, I’ll open it up and show you the odometer.  This thing just travelled eight light years in nine minutes.”

      After awhile, Arthur managed to open the rocket and extract the instruments inside.  He pulled out the odometer and showed it to the camera.  It read 10,800,012,324 km.  He then pulled out the clock and showed held it next to the one he had kept in front of the camera.  The clock from the rocket was 12 minutes behind. 

      The next morning, Romband drove to work an hour earlier than normal, feeling excited and confident.  He was armed with the model and the video, and this time he knew he wasn’t going to have to take any of his boss’s shit.  He knew his theory worked, and he had proof.

      As he drove, he looked at all of the other cars, wondering about all of the other drivers.  To them, he was now just another face among billions.  But soon enough, when the discovery of interstellar travel was accredited to him, his name would be known throughout the solar system, from the colonies on Mercury to the cities on Mars; from the bases on the Galilean moons to the space-stations orbiting Neptune.

      He reached the building and marched inside with a feeling of strength and confidence that had been completely absent from his mind the previous morning.  As he made his way into the elevator and up to the second floor he felt no fear.  His boss was not going to get the best of him this time.

      He found his boss in his office, throwing a tennis ball against the wall.  “Romband!” he yelled, “have you ever heard of knocking?”

      “Listen,” said Romband, and at once he felt all the confidence drain from his body like helium from an untied balloon.  “I’ve got proof in this briefcase that…”

      “I don’t care what’s in your stupid briefcase!  I don’t have time to sit here and debate the fundamental laws of physics with you, Romband.  I have better things to do!”

      Romband stood petrified for a moment.  Then all of a sudden he felt his blood flowing again, as a feeling of euphoric adrenaline came over him with the memory of the night before.  “Like what?  Throwing a tennis ball against the wall?”

      For the first time Romband could remember, his boss was speechless.

      “Anyway, do you remember my theory of interstellar travel?”

      His boss pretended to think for a minute.  “You mean that pile of toilet paper you showed me yesterday that you said was the secret of interstellar travel?  Yeah, what about it?”

      Romband was not fazed.  “I have proof that it works.”

      “Oh yeah?”

      “Yeah.  Just give me a few minutes…”

      “Oh no!  You’ve already wasted enough of my time.  I won’t let you take up any more of my day.”

      Romband’s surge of adrenaline reached its peak.  For the first time in his life, he exploded at his boss.  “If you won’t listen, I’ll find someone who will, dammit!  And because this really does work, their company will overtake yours within two days!  If you don’t look at this, you’re going to flop.  This company will fall flat on its face, and you’ll be at fault.  While I’m off working for some other space company to explore the galaxy, you’ll be unemployed and forgotten, remembered only as the man who was too busy throwing a goddamn tennis ball against the wall to deal with the issue of interstellar travel!”

      His boss stared silently, and Romband noticed a quick swallowing motion he made in his throat.  “I guess I can take a look at it,” he said quickly and barely audibly.

      Romband was satisfied.  He opened his briefcase, and slipped the video-chip into the monitor in the office.  His boss watched in silence, without expression or gesture, as his employee demonstrated how his theory of interstellar travel worked.  When the tape was over, he remained silent. 

      “That experiment can be duplicated anytime by anybody and they’ll get the same results,” Romband said as he placed the odometer and the clock on the desk. 

      His boss only stared at them and nodded weakly.  He had lost. 

      Romband’s boss left early that day, and did not come in the next day or ever again.  He simply posted a note on the computer network saying that he had retired, leaving Arthur Romband in charge.  He moved to California, and started an unsuccessful air tours company.  His ignorance and stupidity were remembered forever, but his name was forgotten.

      Arthur Romband remained head of the Administration for many years to come, and under his management they began building the first interstellar space-probes.  He lived to see the first manned mission to Alpha Centauri, after which he retired, and died on December 23, 3342.  His transformation of the world was seen as the greatest influence since Jon Clark.  And as time went on, his proved to be greater.

      Interstellar travel was used regularly by the time the 3420s rolled around.  STAR was sending astronauts to distant planets and moons, exploring alien landscapes, and even colonising most of them.  Because STAR was the only space company that held the patent for interstellar travel, only STAR could use it, and they quickly became the only company that regulated travel in space, putting all other such companies out of business.

      Historians now look upon the 3420s as the peak in revolutionary space travel.  The decade began with the beginning of the longest and most incredible journey ever embarked upon by man.  And just as with nearly all revolutionary changes, it began with one man, and one idea. 
 

Chapter 2

Time: 8:00 a.m. June 14, 3421  Eastern Time

Place: Conference room, STAR Corp. Building 

      The man’s name was Jim Lampert, and he was the head of the Spaceflight department of the STAR Administration, the largest of all the departments.  It was Lampert’s job to oversee all of the activities of the six divisions working under him.  He was just below the level of Chief Administrator; the same rank as Arthur Romband had been before his sudden promotion.

      Lampert arrived at the weekly Tuesday morning meeting of the Spaceflight department with a proposal which he figured had very little hope of passing.  Although he was the head of the department, he still needed the approval of those working under him in order to bring a proposal before the top administrators of the company, and hopefully get the final approval of the Chief Administrator himself.  Lampert had never been more excited about one of his ideas, although he was aware that such an extreme proposal had little chance of being taken seriously.

      He waited in the conference room until the six heads of the divisions under him were all present.  He thenstood up and began the meeting.  “Fellow members of the Spaceflight department, I have a very important proposal to lay out before you in this meeting, but before we begin, I’m required to make the standard role call.”  Lampert then began to call off the names of his employees one by one, in standard STAR tradition.  There are a lot of names here, but you don’t have to worry about remembering them.  Just take note of their jobs, so you can get a basic idea of the company’s structure.

      “Jake Philips.”  Philips was the head of mission control, and had supervised over two hundred missions to other star systems.  While some of these missions were just rendezvous with newly discovered celestial objects, most of them were planetary landings.

      “Here,” Philips answered.

      “Roger Hanson.”  He was in charge of colonisation.  He took the information that Philips obtained about new planets, and worked out methods for colonising them.  Each new planet presented a new type of challenge.  Hanson had a minor claim to fame, in that he had discovered how to colonise gas giants just a few years prior.

      “Here.”

      “Alex Brasoon.”  Although this person really didn’t have anything to do with Spaceflight, but he was still considered a part of the Spaceflight department.  Basically, he was in charge of advertising.  He ran ads for potential investors and potential colonists.  It was Brasoon’s idea that STAR buy an entire television station that simply ran informational programs about the company and about new colonies.

      “Here.”

      “Leslie Johnson.”  She was the head of the medical division, and in charge of all the doctors who would check out the astronauts’ health before missions to either approve or disapprove of their going.  Also under her supervision were the medical officers and surgeons who were appointed to go on the missions and held the same status as normal astronauts.

      “Here.”

      “Zack Palp.”  Palp was in charge of the space stations.  Because designs for space stations had already been perfected at this point, he did little more than raise money for new stations to orbit every celestial object, and on occasion raise money for a resort-themed space station, such as Space Station Getaway in orbit of Earth.  Finally, he oversaw maintenance and additions to existing space stations.

      “I’m here.”

       “Maria Altman.”  Altman was in charge of the development of new spacecrafts.  Previous holders of her position had come up with public crafts like the space-taxi, space-ferry, space-freighter, and basically anything that had the word “space” with a hyphen after it.  Public crafts were not directly supervised by STAR mission control, so it was her job to account for them, as well as the construction of the non-public ships such as the All-Purpose Spacecraft, and the Explorer.

      “Gentlemen and ladies,” Lampert began, “We have been exploring space for millennia, and exploring new solar systems for centuries.  Ever since Arthur Romband made his famous discovery two hundred and forty years ago, we’ve been rendezvousing with newly discovered celestial objects, landing on all of them, and colonising most of them.

      “We began simply with the Alpha Centauri system, exploring every nook and cranny there was to explore.  Eventually someone in my position suggested that we begin reconnaissance of other systems on top of that.  The idea was passed, and since then we’ve been to many other places, including Polaris, Antares, and our most recent triumph, the red giant Betelgeuse.”

      At the mention of this star system, everyone smiled.  The mission to Betelgeuse XII had just recently been completed to great success, and everyone who took part in it was extremely proud of his or her accomplishment.  You’ll here plenty more about that particular mission later on.

      “Even more recently, it was suggested by one of our astronauts that we try and penetrate the great gas giants of our own system, and despite many tragic occurrences, the Jupiter exploration and colonisation missions were, for the most part, a success.”

      Roger Hanson smiled at this, and Jake Philips gave a sigh.  The Jupiter missions were a success to some people, such as those who worked on the colonisation, but they were also an emotional trial for the astronauts involved and those who knew them personally. 

      “But now,” Lampert finally got to his point, “I am making a proposal more serious than the decision to begin exploring new star systems, and more drastic than colonising gas giants.  We have spent centuries working on interstellar travel.  I now propose we begin looking into intergalactic travel.  I am proposing a mission to the Andromeda galaxy.”

      Lampert paused to try and let his last remark sink in.  Somehow, the speech sounded much more powerful when he practised it than how it came out now.  It was probably the fact that he had been listening to some intense classical music when he rehearsed the speech the night before.

      Zack Palp broke the silence.  “So you want us to vote?”

      “Well, before we begin a vote, are there any questions?”  Lampert was hoping that someone would express some doubts about this, as there were many to be expressed, and Lampert was itching to show off his skill in an argument.  But there were no objections.  Lampert forgot he was dealing with members of the Spaceflight department.  They loved new challenges, and a mission to the Andromeda galaxy sounded as if it should be the biggest challenge yet.  And those that would argue against him were those whom this would least affect, and therefore there was no reason for argument.  So somewhat reluctantly, Lampert passed out the papers, and as was the policy of the Spaceflight department, they held a secret ballot to vote on the proposal.

      Lampert counted up the votes.  4 to 2 in favour of the mission.  Although he was happy that the vote passed, he was a little miffed that those who were against him did not even bother to argue.  He was sure he knew who had voted against him.  Roger Hanson, who knew that colonisation would play no part in these missions, and Leslie Johnson, who usually voted “no” to just about every proposal.

      But now, Lampert had to bring his idea before the main committee of administrators, and he knew that getting any idea past them was much harder than getting it past his own committee. 

      It was Wednesday, two days after the standard Monday meeting of the main Committee of STAR administrators, but because Jim Lampert couldn’t wait all week to bring the proposal before them he called an impromptu meeting himself.

      “All right,” said Michael Romband, the head of the STAR Administration, “Mr. Lampert has called this meeting to propose some sort of mission.  What is it, Jim?”

      Lampert wouldn’t have dreamed of calling a meeting himself if his boss were anyone but Mike Romband.  The Rombands had been the head family of the Administration on and off for generations, depending on what each wanted to do with his or her life.  Most, like in the case of Michael, decided to carry on the “family business.”  More things always seemed to get done when a Romband was in charge.

      “Well,” Lampert began, and gave the same speech he gave to his own employees.  He noticed that the three other people in this room seemed to listen more attentively than the members of his committee had.  It was no surprise, seeing as how active listening was one of the major aspects of the administrative positions, and they had all been through long training for the development of that skill alone.  In order to rise to such a position, they had to hear a fifty-page report on the history of space travel and repeat it all in their own words.

      When Lampert was done, Mike Romband stood up.  “Thank you, Mr. Lampert.  Well, a trip to the Andromeda galaxy does seem as though it would be a very interesting project for the company, although there are a few problems to this.  Excuse me while I play devil’s advocate,” he said to Lampert.

      “No problem,” Lampert responded.

      “First of all, people are going to wonder why, if we’re beginning a campaign of intergalactic travel, we’re not first going to the Magellanic Clouds?” Romband asked.  The Magellanic Clouds are two irregular galaxies in orbit of the Milky-Way, much closer than Andromeda.

      “The point of this mission is to break free of the entire Milky-Way system,” Lampert said, the adrenaline of a man ready to argue already pumping through his veins.  “The Magellanic Clouds may be the closest separate galaxies, but they’re still within the Milky Way system.  Besides, it’ll be much harder to get funding for a mission to a Magellanic Cloud than Andromeda, seeing as how almost nobody knows what they are.”

      “True,” said Romband.  “And personally, I don’t think any of our astronauts would want to go to a Magellanic Cloud anyway.  I get bored just talking about it.  But that brings me to the main issue, which is finding a crew of people who would be willing to leave the galaxy, even to go to Andromeda.”

      “I’m sure there would be plenty of astronauts who would jump at the chance to go on such a mission,” Lampert insisted.

      “Really?” Romband said.  “What about the issue of safety?  If anything goes wrong, we wouldn’t be able to save them.  They’d be thousands upon thousands of light years from home, with no hope of returning.”

      “But,” Lampert interjected, “the development of interstellar travel has greatly reduced the problems that such risks can cause.  If there is any sort of emergency, all it would take for a crew to reach the nearest space-station is a jacking up of the time scale so that they could reach one in a matter of hours or minutes.”

      “That may be true when we’re travelling in the vicinity of our own local group of stars,” said Romband, “but we’ve never sent astronauts that far.  In fact, if I remember the calculations, at our highest time-scale level, it would take the astronauts months to come home on a return trajectory.  Who knows what would happen if there’s an explosion in Andromeda?”

      “Well…” Lampert began, trying to find the right words.

      “I’m not saying I’m against the idea,” Romband explained, “I’m merely trying to get everyone to look at this from different perspectives.”  And indeed, everybody was.  They were constantly changing their minds.  “But I think the main issue here, as I brought up before, is finding a crew that would actually be willing to go on such a mission.  Have you done any calculations, Jim?  How many years would pass by on Earth while the astronauts are on their mission?”

      Lampert answered slowly, “Approximately five million years.”

      Everyone in the room took a deep breath and considered the implications.  Five million years was a long time, even in geological terms.  None of them, they knew, would be willing to risk leaving their home planet for such a long time.

      Lampert knew what was on the minds of his fellow employees, and he spoke in response to this.  “These astronauts aren’t like any of us,” he said, “their passion for space and exploration exceeds everything else in their minds.  I know many astronauts who would be more than willing to leave their entire lives behind, and risk returning to a world that they may not even recognise.”

      Mike Romband nodded.  “I think I understand, Jim.  But don’t a lot of these men have families too?  Would they be willing to leave them behind, knowing for a fact that they would never see them again?”

      Lampert drew a long breath.  “To see our beautiful sister galaxy from the inside, I’m sure some of them, our best in particular, would be willing to sacrifice anything.”

      Mike Romband sat down, and there was a long pause as the men in the room tried to contemplate the meaning of such a journey.  Romband broke the silence.  “If we approve of this mission, it’s going to be a difficult one.  I won’t settle for any less than the best for this crew.  Do you think that you can find twelve people, the best people, who would also be willing to go on such a mission?”

      “There is not a doubt in my mind,” he said.

      “Very well,” Romband said.  “Let’s vote.  Alan Dorn?”

      Dorn was the head of the Recording department, which used the telescopes to keep track of every known object in space.  “Against,” he said.

      Romband nodded, and looked at Lampert, whose eyes were closed.  “That’s one against.  Phil Jacobs?”

      Jacobs headed up the science department, which basically came up with new technology when it was needed, and performed experiments on rocks from newly discovered planets and moons.  He also had a slew of astronaut-scientists under the supervision of his department.  “For,” said Jacobs.

      Lampert opened his eyes, and forgave Jacobs any past wrongdoings for which he may have begrudged him.  All eyes were now on Mike Romband, since Lampert could not vote for his own proposal, and Romband had the deciding vote.

      “I don’t see why we would have to embark on such a mission now,” he said.  “After all, we’ve got the entire life-span of the human race to start exploring new galaxies.”

      Lampert’s heart sunk, but Romband wasn’t finished.

      “Still, I’ve never been one to turn down a proposal with such a high pioneering spirit,” he continued.  “And if we can do it, why not?  I’m for it.  Mr. Lampert, it’s in your hands.  Mission: Andromeda is now open.” 
 

Chapter 3

Time:  5:00 p.m.  June 18, 3421  Eastern Time

Place:  76 Glenn Drive, Tallahassee, Earth 

      Before we enter the residence of the STAR Administration’s most skilled and highly esteemed astronaut, you should know about his background.

      Arnold Juciper was the only son of STAR astronaut Arnold Juciper Senior.  Juciper Sr. was a graduate of Clark University, with a major in communications.  He got a job with STAR as a mission controller; his job was to communicate back and forth with the astronauts on board spaceships during missions.  Eventually, as he gained more and more experience, his application for a promotion was passed and he went through training to become a full-fledged astronaut, with the job of on-board Communications Officer.

      Arnold Juciper Sr. would go on interstellar missions, particularly visits to the planets of Alpha Centauri.  These missions would take days to the astronauts while weeks went by at home.  He loved his wife Julia and his son Arnold Junior with all his heart, but he was hardly ever around to see them, gone for weeks at a time, and returning home for several months, only to go away for another month.

      Arnold Jr. idolised his father, and was fascinated with his work.  Juciper would take his son to the viewing room in mission control to watch historic rendezvous and first-landings, and his son grew a passion for space at a very young age.  The highlight of his childhood was when Arnold Sr. took him and his mother to Space Station Getaway, a very popular yet very expensive resort, in orbit 300 kilometres above the surface of the Earth.

      It was Arnold’s mother Julia who had the problem with her husband’s occupation.  He hadn’t given her a second child, and it didn’t seem as though he ever would.  Eventually, she simply couldn’t handle her husband being gone so often, and began having an affair.  This was not uncommon among spouses of astronauts, and her husband had heard plenty of stories from his fellow employees about the unfaithfulness of their wives or husbands.

      Juciper Sr. suspected his wife for quite some time before he actually caught her.  Arnold Jr. was 13 years old at the time, and he would always remember the horrible fights that went on during the week his dad was home, but slept at a motel.  In the end however, Juciper Sr. and his wife did what was in their son’s best interest and stayed together.  Julia didn’t give up her boyfriend on the side, but it was decided that as long as little Arnold didn’t know about it, and big Arnold didn’t have to hear about it, it was not a problem.

      Yet little Arnold did know all about it, and while it never affected him consciously, it would leave a scar on with him that would stay with him for his entire life.  In High School, his first girlfriend ended up cheating on him.  When he found out, he attempted to work it out and stay together, but he was dumped.  He went through a series of short relationships all ending in break-ups until his senior year, when he stayed with his girlfriend until the end.  But when the end came, and they were heading to separate colleges, it was he who decided that they should split up and spare themselves from the hassle of a long-distance relationship.

      The issue with Arnold Juciper Jr. and women was loyalty.  Not having a mother whom was loyal, he felt no sense of loyalty to any woman.  No psychologist would ever tell him this, and he would never know that this was the reason for almost every aspect of his life.

      He met Ellen in college, pursuing a career in Astronautics at Clark University, and fell deeper in love than he had ever been before.  They got married as soon as they finished school, and had a daughter whom they named Rachael.

      And as you know, history has a tendency to repeat itself, and apples don’t usually fall far from the tree.  Juciper Jr. got a job at STAR as a pilot, and quickly climbed the ranks to become a pilot of interstellar missions.  But unlike his father, who would go on missions where the ratio of his time to the time at home was days to weeks, he would travel to further stars, where the ratio was weeks to months.  Ellen Juciper was practically a single mother, and that’s how she felt.

      But just as Arnold Jr. idolised Arnold Sr., Rachael Juciper idolised her father.  Ellen couldn’t split up with Arnold, because she couldn’t tear her daughter away from him.  He would take her to mission control and on frequent vacations to Space Station Getaway (which was now much more affordable), and she became just as fascinated by the stars as her father.  By the time Juciper was promoted to Commander, the highest rank a STAR astronaut can have, his daughter was already actively pursuing the same career at age 9.

      Ellen, in the meantime, would have her secret affairs, but although Arnold suspected things he did not want to confront his wife and suffer the same kind of marriage his parents had when his father had found out about his mother Julia.

      And so time went on, and Arnold Juciper Jr. was given more challenging missions, including one in which a tiny meteor collided with the engine of his ship, and he had to manually fly it to the nearest space station before the ship ran out of back up fuel and oxygen.  He also commanded the first-landing mission to the harsh landscape of Betelgeuse XII.  It was a well-known and widely accepted fact that Arnold Juciper was the best astronaut STAR had.

      And this, of course, is why they felt he was needed for Mission: Andromeda. 

      Jim Lampert stood with Jake Philips outside of Arnold Juciper’s door.  It was four days after the mission had been approved by the top administrators, and at this point nobody knew about it but the Executives in charge of the mission.  Philips, who was the head of mission control and knew most of his astronauts on a first-name basis, knocked on the door.

      “I don’t see why we can’t just call him on the phone,” said Lampert.

      “This is our best astronaut,” Philips argued.  “If we don’t have him as commander, we practically don’t have a mission.”

      “I don’t understand,” said Lampert.

      “Look,” Philips began, “Everybody knows who Arnold Juciper is.  This guy’s a celebrity.  If we announce to the world that we’re sending a spaceship to Andromeda, people are going to look for Arnold Juciper to be on that spaceship.”

      “So what you’re saying is that investors won’t feel right about funding the mission if they don’t feel sure it can be accomplished.  And with Arnold Juciper…”

      “They’ll know it will be accomplished.  This man has never let us down before, and people would never even associate his name with the word: failure.” Philips got back to the point.  “And if we want him to go on this mission, we want to meet him in person to ask him to do it.  The phone is too impersonal.”

      “I see,” said Lampert, just as a young girl around the age of 16 opened the door.

      “Hey!” she exclaimed, looking at Philips, “Aren’t you the guy from mission control.  Phil…uh…Philips!”

      “Why yes, I am,” said Philips, kind of flattered that the daughter of Arnold Juciper knew his name.  She must have seen him from the viewing room above Mission Control.

      “I’m Rachael.  You must want to see my dad.  Come inside.”  Rachael led them into the living room and called for her father.

      In a moment, a tall blonde man in his early thirties came into the room.  It was strange seeing such a young man as the father of such an old child, but that’s what the time-scale did to families. There were stories of astronauts who went on so many missions that their children eventually became physiologically older than them.

      “Oh, hi!” he said, surprised to see his supervisor and his supervisor’s supervisor appearing in his living room on a Sunday afternoon.  “Mr. Philips, Mr. Lampert.  Good to see you.”  He shook their hands.  “Uh, why don’t you sit down?”

      Juciper took a seat on one of the sofas, motioning to the couch across from him, as Rachael took a seat in the big armchair waiting to hear what news her dad’s bosses had brought him.

      Jim Lampert shot a look at Arnold and motioned with his head towards the girl.  Arnold understood.  “Uh, honey, don’t you have some Homework to do?”

      “No,” she said.

      Arnold gave her a look.

      “Oh, yeah, I guess I do,” she said, and made her way up the staircase.

      Once she was gone, Jim Lampert sat down, and began talking.  “All right, Mr. Juciper,” he began, “I have an offer for you more serious than any offer you’ve ever been made before.  And you’re going to have to make a decision more important than any decision you’ve ever made before.”

      Juciper was curious.  “I think the biggest decision would be the one to ask my wife to marry me, wouldn’t it?” he said with a smile.

      “This one is bigger,” Philips put in.

      Juciper lost his smile, and his curiosity was peaked.

      Jim Lampert was up and pacing around the room, putting his hand on every piece of furniture in an obviously nervous fashion.  “Now, I see no reason to dawdle,” he said, “so I’ll just get right to the point.”  He paused, as his mind went blank.  The only thing that came to him was the speech he had given at the meetings earlier in the week.  “Two hundred and forty years ago, Arthur Romband made a very important discovery…”

      “Let me tell him,” Philips interrupted.  He stood up, and lifted his finger.  “In the beginning, God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light, and it was good…”

      Philips thought that was pretty funny and he broke into a chuckle, but Juciper wasn’t laughing.

      “Look,” Lampert said, “what we’re trying to do is ask you to go on a mission.”

      “So what’s the big deal?” asked Juciper.  “I’ve been on plenty of missions before.”

      “Well…” Lampert began.

      “If you go on this mission, your whole life will be different…” Philips continued.

      “I’m getting confused,” Arnold said, losing patience.  “Where is this mission to?”

      Both Lampert and Philips answered in unison, “Andromeda.”

      Juciper was dumbstruck.  He sat in amazement and contemplated what was before him.  With every second that went by it hit him harder.  Andromeda wasn’t just a name to him.  There was distance behind that name.  Betelgeuse was far, but Andromeda…there was nothing farther.  Of course, there were plenty of galaxies further from home than Andromeda, but these distances lost all meaning when you get that far.  You can try it yourself.  Compare the distance from the moon to the distance from Mars.  It’s all the same: far.  But when you jump from talking about millions of kilometres to millions of light-years, there’s something in the comparison that boggles the mind.

      “You’ll probably need some time,” said Philips.

      “How long would this mission take?” Juciper asked, without changing his glance.  He was still in a state of awe at the possibility of actually being inside another galaxy.

      “One year to you,” Lampert said slowly, “and five million years to Earth.”

      Juciper’s brown eyes seemed to grow clearer as he drew a deep breath.  “Wow,” was all he could manage to say at this bit of information.

      “Is there anything else you want to know?” Lampert asked, seeing just how greatly this idea affected the astronaut.  “We really need you for this one.  Without you we probably don’t have a mission.”

      Juciper looked up.  “I didn’t know we could actually do this.  Is it actually possible to go to Andromeda?  If I agree to go on this mission, will I actually be able to see our neighbouring galaxy from the inside?”

      “Yes,” said Lampert, not knowing if this question was a good or a bad sign.

      Juciper thought very deeply for awhile, and then spoke, “I’ll need to talk it over with my family,” he said.  “But if this mission is going to happen, I can’t think of any greater opportunity in life than to be a part of it.” 

      As soon as the two men left, Rachael Juciper came walking down the stairs.  She had been listening upstairs and had heard the entire conversation.

      “Rachael,” Arnold said with a start.  He realised what she had been doing.  “So you heard?”

      She nodded as she made her way to her father.  “Everything.  Does this mean I’m never going to see you again?”

      Tears were in her eyes, and she put her arms around her father.  A lump formed in Arnold’s throat as he held his daughter more tightly than he had ever done before.  “Rachael,” he said, “if you so much as say the word, I’ll stay here with you and forget about the mission.”

      “I want you to be happy, daddy,” she said.  “This mission must mean a lot to you.  Hey, if I had the chance to go to Andromeda, I would take it in a second.  I want you to go, dad.”

      Arnold didn’t say anything, as tears began to pour from his eyes.  He held his daughter for a good ten minutes, until he finally broke the silence.  “Let me go talk to your mother.” 

      Rachael stayed upstairs that night and didn’t listen as her father explained everything to her mother.  She knew that Ellen would let him go, and probably wouldn’t even wait a year before she brought her other boyfriend into the house.  Ellen didn’t know that Rachael knew about her affair, but she did and secretly hated her for it.

      But after hearing nothing for awhile, she went to the staircase, and peaked down into the living room.  There she saw her father, sitting with her mother on the couch.  The silence was so thick that the chirping of the crickets outside was deafening.  She knew what had gone on.  Her father was leaving, and her mother was letting him go.

      After awhile, Arnold reached out to Ellen; she put her head on his shoulder and they both sat there, silently weeping. At that moment Rachael realised that although her mother wasn’t always as faithful as Rachael wished she would be, she loved her husband, and it hurt her just as much to see him go.  She was in pain when Arnold went away on all the other missions, and that’s why she ran to find love from someone else.  A sudden profound sense of understanding came over Rachael, and she began to cry again.

      Not a word was spoken about the mission for the rest of the night, and even after that the topic was hardly ever mentioned.  But there was a clear understanding throughout the family: Arnold was going to Andromeda, and he wasn’t coming back for as long as they lived. 
 

Chapter 4

Time: 7:00 a.m.  June 20, 3421  Eastern Time

Place: STAR Administration Building, Tallahassee 

      “All right, settle down,” Jake Philips shouted over the commotion.  “You all know why you’re here, so if we could just keep everything under control, we should have our final Crew List by the end of the day.”

      Philips was addressing a crowd of twenty-four astronauts, twelve of whom had already been slated to be on the crew for Mission: Andromeda.  With only one exception, they were the best in each of their specific fields.  The rest of them were back-ups, the second-bests, should any of the first-choice astronauts have something medically wrong with them to prevent them from going on the mission.

      Except for Arnold, they were all very confused.  This is certainly understandable if you put yourself in their shoes: you got home last night to find your answering machine blinking, and you don’t think anything is out of the ordinary.  When you go to play the message, you hear the voice of your boss, Jake Philips, instructing you to call the STAR hot-line, and dial the special extension, 2233.  You do this, and get a busy signal.  You try again, the call goes through, and Jake Philips picks up the phone.  He then tells you that you’ve been selected to go on a mission to the Andromeda galaxy, and to report for medical testing first thing in the morning tomorrow.

      You can imagine the angst of these astronauts, who’d always assumed that a mission to another galaxy was just beyond the realm of possibility, at least in their own time.  And here they were, all gathered together, awaiting the medical test that would decide for them the course of the rest of their lives.  The astronauts were all talking amongst themselves, trying to find someone who had some sort of clue as to what was actually going on.  Arnold Juciper remained silent.

      “Okay,” Philips spoke up again, with a list in his hand.  “We’ve only got one doctor here, so you’re going to go in one at a time.  First up, for the position of Commander, Arnold Juciper.”

      Juciper nodded and walked through the door.  He then underwent the simple procedure that he had gone through many times before in order to be approved for a mission.  He sat on the table and pulled his shirt over his head so that he was only wearing it around his arms.  The doctor picked up a small piece of plastic, the latest in medical technology, known as the MedScan, designed to quickly detect any anomalies in the human body and give a full read-out of its functioning.

      She placed the MedScan against Juciper’s shoulder, and pressed the only button on it.  Juciper felt the electromagnetic waves race through his body as the familiar tingling sensation overcame him.  The little apparatus made a small beep after only several seconds and the doctor removed it from Juciper’s skin; he then put his shirt back on and watched with mild interest as the doctor continued her work.

      She detached the end of the MedScan and removed a small cylinder that resembled a battery.  She took it over to the computer and inserted the battery into a small hole in the Central Processing Unit.  In an instant, a window flashed onto the screen, with the title, “MedScan Body Report”.  A small menu appeared next to the title, with items ranging from Circulatory System to Immune System and every other system in the human body.  The doctor clicked on the first one with the old-style mouse connected to the computer, and an outline of the body appeared on the screen, showing the position of all of Juciper’s veins and arteries, and the direction of the blood-flow.  When she was satisfied with this, the doctor clicked again to bring up the next diagram.  Everything that had been going on in Juciper’s body could be seen, and from the read-outs, his present health could be monitored and his future health could be predicted for up until 3 years into the future.

      “Everything looks good,” the doctor said as she finished.  “I’m approving you for the mission.  Congratulations.”

      Juciper breathed a sigh of relief.  He could now go home and take the rest of the week off, to be ready to report for the first day in ten months of training that would begin on Monday.  As he walked out of the room and back into the small sea of people, he glanced at all of them who might be accompanying him on the mission.  He only recognised a few, but one in particular caught his eye.

      It was a woman, one of the only astronauts who had not been talking at all.  Her face was expressionless, and her eyes stared ahead with such a vacancy and distance in them that it temporarily hypnotised him.  This woman was beautiful, he thought, and there she stood, not talking to or even looking at anyone.  Just as he thought that, she seemed to suddenly become aware that she was being stared at, and without a slight movement of her head, her eyes shot a glance at Juciper and then went right back to their vacant stare.  Juciper took a breath and made his way towards the door without noticing that her eyes had gone back to him and followed him out. 

      The woman that he had seen was Lauren Samalc.  And in order to give you some shade of understanding as to why this woman was the way she was, you’ll need to know a bit about her childhood.

      The first thing you should understand is that Lauren was an accident.  And not just your standard unplanned parenthood accident; she was the kind of accident that ruins countless other lives simply by being born.  Her mother, Jackie Creole, had just recently celebrated her 19th birthday, and having decided to take a year off before going to community college, she attended a New Years’ Eve party with her 22-year-old drop-out boyfriend, Bobby Samalc.

      To make a short story even shorter, they got more drunk than they had ever been in their lives, and had no memory whatsoever of the conception.  Jackie was three months pregnant before she realised it, and upon hearing this news, her boyfriend split as fast as he could.  This left Jackie with nowhere to run to but her parents, who being devout Catholics absolutely refused to allow her to have the abortion she greatly desired.  Just when it seemed that Jackie would have to raise her baby on her own, Bobby returned out of nowhere, his parents having forced him to return to Jackie.

      When the two of them got married, little Lauren was already five months old.  The two of them moved out into a two-family household in the Long Island section of New York City that Jackie’s parents paid the rent for, deciding that this suburban area would be the best place to raise a child on their income.

      The older Lauren grew, the more her parents grew to hate each other, but they would not split up.  Bobby became more and more of an alcoholic while Jackie became more and more of a drug addict.  During the more heated arguments, Bobby would take Lauren into the bedroom and lock Jackie out, while he pretended to beat her in order to upset Jackie.  Lauren, only 6 or 7 years old at the time would just stand there while her mother pounded on the door in hysterics.  When Lauren was around the age of 11 or 12, her father began making her perform sexual favours for him.  Her mother did not abuse her, but merely never stopped treating her like a baby.  She would hold her 14-year-old daughter in her arms and sing her lullabies while she tried to get her homework done.

      At school, she simply minded her own business.  In her younger years, she was made fun of for how she dressed, wearing only the dirty sweat-pants and T-shirts that her mother bought for her.  When she was a bit older and able to buy her own clothes, she was simply taunted for never saying anything.

      In High School, when taunting others to their face gave way to taunting them behind their backs, she didn’t have to deal with that anymore.  She was a beautiful girl, but never wearing any makeup or provocative clothing, hardly anyone noticed.  You must know or have known somebody like that.  They’re just so beautiful, but they do absolutely nothing to show it off.  And it’s quite frustrating to those who do notice and fall in love with their face but can never get anywhere because they don’t have the slightest idea of where to begin...but that’s another story which I’ll get to a bit later.

      Aside from the type of man mentioned above, most of those who did notice her usually had sick minds, and would abuse her after having gone out with her for a little while.  When she was 16, she fell victim to date rape, and could find no where else to run to but her health teacher, who arranged the abortion for the child she had been carrying for only a few weeks.  She could never bring herself to tell anyone about this, especially her parents.

      After graduating High School, she went to community college; that being the only education she could afford.  Upon graduating, she just wanted to get as far away from home and all of the memories as she could, and nothing was further than space.  So she managed to get a job at the STAR Administration as a space-taxi pilot, and she did this job so well that it wasn’t long before one of the more highly esteemed astronauts noticed her talent, and recommended her for a promotion.

      All in all it only took three years for her to become the best and most respected pilot in the entire Administration.  When the chance to go on a mission to Andromeda came up, she could think of no better final escape than to leave for 5 million years, and return to a world in which she could be sure her parents were dead.  When the doctors approved her for the mission, she was the happiest she had ever been in her entire life, though you would never be able to tell by looking at her. 

      Jake Philips came bursting through the door to Jim Lampert’s office like he was a surprise witness in a trial.  “I’ve got it,” he said with a smile, “the list of the finest crew we’ve ever put together.”

      Lampert looked up.  “How are we going to do regular missions once these people are gone?  Do we have enough skilled astronauts left?”  He said this half-jokingly, but Philips took it to heart.

      “Of course we do,” he said.  “We’ve even got enough to fill up ten more spaceships and send them to Andromeda if we wanted to.  And after that, we could always do more.  Nowadays more and more people are sending in applications.  People really want to be a part of this company.  We are the most important Administration in the galaxy.”

      “Without us, there would be no space-travel,” Lampert said, half-pondering what the universe would be like if the STAR Administration suddenly disappeared.  He came out of it, and took the list from Philips’s hand.  “Let me see that list,” he said.  He looked it over, nodding in approval. 

            Commander    Arnold Juciper

            Pilot 1     David O’Brian

            Pilot 2     Lauren Samalc

            Medical Officer 1   Todd Blankens

            Medical Officer 2   Lilian Zaw

            Surgeon 1    Elliot Larken

            Surgeon 2    Ronald Stark

            Scientist 1    Mark Staff

            Scientist 2    Craig Malls

            Ship Supervisor   Maria Wendall

            Communications   Jack Peskie

            Computers    Jason Floyd 

      “I’ve never seen a crew list on which I’ve recognised so many names,” Lampert commented.

      “With the exception of Craig Malls whom we talked about, they’re the best of the best,” said Philips.

      “But wait, I don’t recognise some of these people.  Who’s Jack Peskie?  I thought Landon was our best Communications guy.  And I don’t remember seeing Ronald Stark on your original draft either.”

      “Those are both back-ups.  We’ve had some unfortunate news.  It seems Ian Landon has a heart disease that can be provoked by the use of a time scale.  He has only about three years to live, and that would be even less if we put him on any more interstellar missions.  A trip to Andromeda would kill him just as soon as the ship reached 1 year per second.”

      Lampert was shocked.  “Shit,” he said.  “Landon was the best we had.  Poor guy.  So what are we going to do with him?”

      “We’re giving him a position aboard the Zeus cargo ship.  It’s a cushy job, and he won’t have to deal with a time-scale.  But we’re not releasing news of his heart problem to anyone.  He doesn’t want anyone to know.  That’s strictly between the administrators.”

      “I understand.  And what about the other surgeon?” asked Lampert.

      “Greg Henry?  There was a bit of unpleasantness.  He was told that he would be getting diarrhoea before the mission’s conclusion.  Frankly, I don’t see why this would be such a big deal, but those Medics are tough.  He was so upset that he wasn’t approved that security had to drag him out kicking and screaming.”

      “How is that possible?” asked Lampert.  “I don’t care how good our medical technology is, you can’t tell that someone is going to get diarrhoea over a year before it happens.  It’s not like there’s a dormant diarrhoea bug that waits around before striking.”

      “Actually,” said Philips, “that’s exactly what it is.  It’s a new virus, but all it does is give you diarrhoea, so there’s not much media attention given to it.”

      “Well, you’d better find a damn good mission to put him on before he becomes another David O’Brian,” said Lampert. 

      David O’Brian was the younger of two children in his family, living in the more rural area of the city of Houston.  Luck would never be his friend in life, and from the beginning it set itself in a firm place as his enemy.  His older brother Joshua O’Brian was a child prodigy.  Josh flew through school, skipping grades left and right, receiving all sorts of honours and awards, and obtaining a full scholarship to Clark University.

      David, on the other hand, had always been a bit slower.  He wasn’t stupid by any means, but compared to his brother (as he inevitably was) he was as dumb as a brick, if you’ll pardon the cliché.  Throughout his education he was constantly told by his teachers how they remembered his brother, and how they hoped David was as smart and charismatic as he had been.  Eventually, David stopped trying.

      He fell in with the “wrong crowd” as the saying goes, and by the time he reached High School, his parents had given up on him.  They were happy enough with one genius in the family.  Josh, having given up the medical profession at age 15, was now a rich and successful lawyer.  David lived in wealth through his High School years, but he was more interested in going to parties and getting piss drunk with his friends.  He would come inside at 4:00 a.m. without a word, and his parents didn’t care as they slept in their gigantic, softly vibrating bed.  David would sleep in a sleeping bag on his floor that he bought with his own money, refusing to sleep in the giant bed that his older brother had bought for him.

      Failing all his classes sophomore year, David was forced to repeat the 10th grade.  A junior at age 19, David watched all of his friends as they prepared to graduate and go off to college.  Rather than spend his senior year hanging out with the people in his own grade, David made up his mind to drop out once all his friends graduated.

      But then, the one life-changing incident of David’s youth happened.  His best friend was killed in a car accident while driving home drunk from a party that David had talked him into coming to.  He was devastated, and the overwhelming feelings of guilt were unbearable for him.  His friend had been close to the top of his class and well on his way to becoming a STAR astronaut.  David decided that he owed it to his him to finish school and get a good job.

      His parents and teachers were amazed by David’s metamorphosis as he “straightened up” and “flew right.”  He gave up drinking for good, and spent his entire senior year studying, getting all his reports done, and achieving High Honour Roll for the entire year.  It was too late for him to get into Clark, but after one year at Community College, he was able to successfully transfer to that prestigious university in Tallahassee.

      After graduating from Clark, his extremely proud parents bought him a very expensive home in Tallahassee so that he could work for STAR.  David O’Brian lived out the dream of his friend, and got a job at STAR as a scientist, but after gaining some seniority, he applied for a job as a pilot and got it.

      His charisma and motivation made him become one of the best pilots that the company had, and he was soon promoted to Commander.  He married one of the scientists he had met at work, and together they had a son.  Everything was going very well for David O’Brian.  Even his brother Josh was impressed, and frequently came to visit him.

      But, luck would not allow so much happiness for O’Brian for too long of a time, and something happened which sent him on a downward spiral into divorce, and demotion from Commander back to Pilot.  He became hostile towards his co-workers, and the STAR Administration labelled him a dangerous man, although still considered him too valuable to fire.

      When the Andromeda mission came up, Jake Philips saw an opportunity which he believed might be the answer to David’s problem.  He was offering him an escape, and he thought that he would accept it gracefully.  He accepted it, but by no means did the problem disappear.  In fact, if Philips had known just how greatly being a pilot under Arnold Juciper’s command would increase his hostility he would never have allowed him on the mission. 

      So the crew list was posted, and soon all of the employees of the STAR Administration knew all of the information pertaining to the unprecedented mission to the Andromeda galaxy.  The astronauts who were going had accepted that they had less than a year on Earth before they left it for several million.

      The training began shortly thereafter, but the crew had no opportunity to get to know one another.  Most of them had never met each other, as STAR usually split up their crews according to skill, and they rarely put more than one of their best on a mission.  Training was usually one-on-one, with the pilots put in simulators on their own, the surgeons practising by themselves countless simulated operations, and the scientists doing all sorts of private research on galactic astronomy and theories of an expanding universe.

      It seemed that the halls of the STAR building had never been more alive as most everyone had something to do with the mission, however small or relatively insignificant.  The chief administrator, Mike Romband loved the atmosphere and the feeling that he was really in charge of something big.  Jim Lampert was busy working with Jake Philips to develop a flight plan, and with Maria Altman to construct a ship that would be capable of providing a home to twelve astronauts for a year, the longest a crew of twelve people had ever spent together on a mission.

      The imaginations of everyone in the company ran wild, and outside Tallahassee the media covered the development of this mission more closely than they covered the White House.  It seemed that everyone’s eyes were on the STAR Administration as they prepared to send 12 people on a journey that would take them farther than anyone had ever dreamed of going.  They were dream-makers, and they were doing the impossible.  Rarely did anyone stop to consider the deeper implications of the undertaking. 
 

Chapter 5

Time:  10:00 a.m.  June 23, 3421  Eastern Time

Place:  STAR Administration Building, Tallahassee 

      Mission preparations continued to occupy the time of almost everybody at STAR, but none were more excited and nervous than the crewmembers themselves.  Before writing more boring things about mission preparations, I’ll introduce another character, the man who would be running the on-board computer during the flight.

      This man was born in the Long Island section of New York City, and was raised fatherless by his mother Valerie Brown, who named him Jimmy.  When Jimmy was only 5 years old, his mother died suddenly in a car accident.  He was never told who his father was.  Later, he would speculate that his mother wasn’t quite sure either.

      His mother having made no will, the city forced Jimmy into the custody of his only living relative, his Aunt Gloria.  Gloria was what you might call a heavy-duty Christian Fundamentalist.  She greatly begrudged her sister Valerie for never revealing the identity of Jimmy’s father, and never spoke to her again after Jimmy’s birth.  While Jimmy was living with her, she abused him both physically and mentally.

      For years, Jimmy existed as the target of Gloria’s aggression.  He was her “stress therapy.”  Whenever Gloria came home from work feeling angry with her boss, she would take it out on Jimmy, and he would be sent to school the following day with the instruction to tell the teachers that he had “fallen down the stairs again.”  His staircase, he would have to explain, was very tricky.

      Jimmy was fed nothing but crackers for lunch, and macaroni and cheese for dinner.  Occasionally, Gloria would let him eat her leftovers once they had become rotten or stale.  Jimmy would often become sick, but she would never keep him home.  He would spend entire days at school puking in the Nurse’s office.

      Naturally, Jimmy never became one of the most popular boys in school.  He kept to himself mostly, heeding the words of his aunt that he didn’t deserve any friends, and that he would be doing a disservice to anyone he brought into his miserable affairs.  Jimmy tried to convince himself that this wasn’t true, but after hearing it for so long it crept into his subconscious and he would sometimes go days without speaking to anyone but his teachers when he was called on to answer a question.  Though he never raised his hand, he always knew the right answer.

      Psychologists would say that Jimmy had entered a stage of “voluntary autism.”  He was living in his own world, reading books and writing stories, whether for school or not.  He would even memorise entire scenes from movies and entire booklets of lyrics from his favourite music discs.  At recess, while the other boys were playing war games, he would have his back pressed against the wall, reciting to himself the scores of musicals he’d memorised.  He knew he was different, but he didn’t yet understand why.  He even went through a brief phase in which he thought he was a homosexual because that would have been an easy explanation for why he wasn’t like other boys.

      Jimmy went on, separated from humanity and thinking he was gay until he fell in love for the first time.  He was in seventh grade, and he fell in love with an eighth-grade girl who was the sister of one of the boys in his own grade.  It was at this point that he attempted to socialise with people, particularly the brother of this girl.  He made a few “friends,” and he occasionally hung out with them and visited the house of the girl he loved.  It was there that he met this girl's boyfriend, a sophomore in High School, whom she loved very much.  For a couple of years to follow, all of Jimmy’s fantasies revolved around this girl in some way.  But having had Christian morality lodged in his brain as a child, none of the fantasies were sexual.  Jimmy merely acted out conversations between the two of them, in which she would always tell him how intelligent he was and how she would be better off with a boyfriend like him.

      But deep down, Jimmy felt that he didn’t deserve her.  The years of his aunt calling him a “child of Satan” had many effects on him.  The only thing Gloria ever took the time to explain to him was what it meant to be a bastard.  He was less than human, she would frequently tell him, and she couldn’t wait until she would be watching him burning in eternal Hellfire from her comfortable spot in the paradise of Heaven.

      Jimmy took an interest in these things, and of all his private studies, he was most fascinated by astronomy and philosophy.  He often pondered the big questions of the universe, its fate and its purpose.  Through his constant thinking, Jimmy developed a few unique philosophical outlooks of his own, though he never explained them to anyone.  He was fascinated by the life of Christ, though he would never call himself a Christian.  By the time he got to High School, he could barely even stand the sound of the word.

      Jimmy went to a different High School than the girl he had loved from middle school, and in doing so he met many different people, and many different girls.  He fell in love again about a third of the way through his freshman year, this time at first sight.  It was then that he experienced his greatest rejection.  Having no idea how to go about approaching a girl, he sent her a note and made the mistake of letting too much of his true feelings pour out in his writing.  This scared her, and she told him that “she wasn’t ready for a relationship with anyone right now.”  He attempted to remain “friends” with her, but he didn’t know where the line was, and his poor social skills and intimidating inner psyche scared her away to the point where she just ignored him for several years.

      Jimmy fell back into his autistic mode, where he didn’t talk to anyone and spent all of his time reading science-fiction and filling his head with useless information.  He got his first job working in an office after school, and used his money to buy a computer.  He began to write a lot more, but his stories got much darker and more disturbing.  Nobody would ever read them, however, save for one time when he gave his English teacher a sample of his writing and she referred him to the school counsellor.  He was told that he had severe depression and needed professional help immediately.  He knew Gloria would never agree to such a thing, so he never mentioned it to anyone.

      Jimmy’s best friend throughout High School was his computer, on which he learned how to do just about anything, from taking apart and rebuilding his hard drive to hacking into secure web sites.  He also had a pile of games that centred on space exploration and war.

      In his senior year, Jimmy was put in a study hall where he sat close to sophomore Lauren Samalc.  Jimmy, once again, fell in Love.  But he had been too deeply scarred from his rejection by the other girl to even think about attempting to try for this one.  He just sat silently and admired her while she sat silently and stared blankly into space.  He tried to make conversation with her once or twice, but she just answered whatever questions he asked and returned to her trance.  Jimmy simply watched silently as other men took advantage of her and she was hurt time and again.  He could see that she was the most beautiful thing in the world, but he was amazed that she couldn’t see it, and that she didn’t try to show it off.  In her eyes Jimmy saw the same kind of desperate agony that he felt, and he got it into his mind that somehow, if anyone were to understand his pain, it would be her.

      Jimmy didn’t talk to Lauren, but he talked to some people who knew her, which is how he learned about her abusive boyfriends, and that she planned to work for STAR when she got older.  This had always been Jimmy’s plan as well, but he might not have decided to try for it had it not been for that.  He Lauren was his inspiration for pursuing that career instead of spending the rest of his life in the dead-end business job he’d had.

      Upon graduating, Jimmy went to a community college for two years, and by earning nearly perfect grades he managed to transfer to Clark University in Tallahassee.  When he moved out, it was the happiest day of his life.  His aunt told him that she never wanted to hear from him again, and she never did.  Jimmy never even found out that she died of a heart attack only one year after he left.  He didn’t even care enough to check.

      While attending Clark, Jimmy decided to have his name legally changed.  There had been too many bad memories that he associated with his own name.  He chose Jason to be his first name because he wanted to keep the same first initial, and Floyd to be his last name after a character from one of his favourite novels, Dr. Heywood Floyd from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  His room-mate in college was the one who told him about Pink Floyd, a 20th Century rock group that had recently become popular again due to the sudden interest the world was taking in 20th Century music.  Jimmy, who was now Jason Floyd, bought their most popular album, The Wall, and loved it so much that he went and bought every album that Pink Floyd had ever put out.  Even after their brief burst back into popularity ended, Jason would still listen to them, and recite their lyrics to himself whenever there was nothing better to do.

      He graduated from Clark University with a degree in computer science, and immediately applied for a job as a computer specialist Astronaut at the STAR Administration.  Normally, one doesn’t enter star as a full-fledged astronaut, but Jason Floyd blew them away with his skills.  Not only was he put on interstellar missions right away, but he also rose the ranks to become number 1 in his field in only a matter of years, which to Floyd was only a matter of months.  He was even chosen to go to Betelgeuse XII with Arnold Juciper when that mission took place.

      Jason saw little to nothing of Lauren when she entered STAR because she became a space-cabby and lived on-board a space station for space-taxis.  When she did become an astronaut, Floyd was never put on a mission with her, but he did see her occasionally in the hallways of the STAR building, and at launches on the STAR field.  When she was on a mission and he wasn’t, Floyd would always visit mission control and watch the flight, hoping to catch the occasional glimpse of her when the big screen showed images from inside the ship.  He was worried that this might be obsessive behaviour, but at that point he had been in love with her for over 10 years so it was useless to deny it.

      Finally, when the crew list for the Andromeda mission was posted and Jason Floyd saw that he would be on the same ship with Lauren Samalc for a year, he almost died.  Just the thought of this situation caused him unbelievable stress.  He would be on a spaceship hurtling towards an entirely separate galaxy with the woman he loved more than anything else in the universe.  He had no idea what to do or how to act.  Of all the astronauts selected to go on this mission, Jason Floyd was the most terrified. 

      Jim Lampert was working on the flight-plan for Mission: Andromeda when Jake Philips entered his office with the news that the training of the astronauts had begun.  Actually, Lampert was staring into space in a trance of contemplation, and was gratified when Philips entered for someone else to share in his rumination.  Here is what the flight-plan looked like at this point: 

  1. Undock
  1. Rendezvous, Destination: Andromeda
  1. Deep Rendezvous, Destination: Andromeda
  1. Rendezvous, Destination: ?

      That should give you an idea of exactly how the mission would go for at least the first leg of it.  These were the completely obvious parts of the mission.  Undocking was virtually the same for every mission, and this mission, like the vast majority of others, would begin from Ring Station 4, the chief space station of the STAR Administration in orbit of Earth.

      The specifics of the rendezvous with Andromeda needed only simple math to figure out.  The maximum velocity of any object was the speed of light, and any interstellar spacecraft could match that.  But in order to go any faster, you would need to increase the time-scale, and while time would still travel at a normal rate to the rest of the universe, it would be zooming by at days every second for you.  So far, the maximum rate of time-scale travel that STAR could accomplish was just above 70 days per second, although models were always improving and pushing this number higher.

      The word “Thrust” did not have entirely the same meaning when it came to interstellar ships.  The ship would only be accelerating for the first few hours of the trip, during which it would approach and reach the speed of light.  After that, thrusting would merely keep the ship going at a steady time ratio, in this case, 70 days per second.  During the periods of “coasting”, the ship would still be travelling at the speed of light, without slowing down at all.  The difference between thrusting and coasting was merely a matter of time ratios.  Lampert worked in several periods of coasting in order to give the ship some time to be moving at 1 second per second, thus making it possible to communicate with Earth.

      The deep rendezvous procedure was fairly unique, and it meant that instead of just placing yourself near a celestial object, you would actually go through it.  This was only used in the cases of nebulae or star clusters, where going through would not be much of a hazard.  Usually, the time scale would be slowed down to only a few minutes per second or so, but this was a galaxy, not a nebula, and even at a ratio of days to seconds, it would still take a month to pass through it.

      The period of coasting worked into the deep rendezvous procedure was not for communication with Earth, but for an Extra-Vehicular Activity, or “space-walk.”  During this, most of the crew would be required to exit the spaceship to use advanced recording techniques to be used for mapping out the Andromeda galaxy.  If others desired, they could also go on a space-walk and take photographs.

      Lampert was now stuck on the most difficult question of all: how to get back from Andromeda.  “The way I see it,” he said, “there are only three choices.  We could either return by way of the Earth, Sun, or galactic core.”  The problem was the choice of which celestial object to track for the return trajectory.  They had to orient their spaceship with something, and lock onto it in order to return.

      Philips nodded.  “I was thinking about that.  Earth is absolutely out of the question.  The ship will be moving way too fast.  For every minute on board the Earth will have moved around the sun 12 times.  The ship’s tracking system would never be able to hold onto that.”

      “We’d have the same problem with the sun,” said Lampert.  “I don’t know its exact orbital velocity off the top of my head, but literally millions of years will go by during the ship’s return, and it certainly won’t be in the same place it was when they begin their return.  It may be possible, but I’m not sure we want to risk it.  The Milky Way is going to look awfully small from that cockpit window when they turn that ship around, and we’re not sure if the tracking computer will be able to even locate the sun from that distance.  And if it can, the margin of error may be too high.”

      “It sounds to me like you’re trying to make a case for the galactic core,” Philips said sceptically.

      “If you want to be blunt about it, I am,” said Lampert.  “The galactic core is the only thing that will remain stable in relation to the rest of the galaxy.  The computer will find no problem in locating it, and holding the ship on course for the return trajectory.”

      Philips nodded with half a smirk on his face.  “Jim,” he said, “we both know the problem with that idea.”

      “The black hole may not be a problem,” Lampert argued.  Philips spoke before he could go any further.

      “I’m not allowing any crew of mine to get anywhere near the galactic core,” he said in his self-righteous manner.  “What used to be a theory is now a fact; that the centre of the galaxy harbours a black hole of unspeakable proportions.  It could swallow the sun whole.  And I’m not even going to mention the gravity issue.  If light can’t even escape it, how well do you expect one of our scraps of metal to fare?”

      In saying that, Philips did in fact mention the “gravity issue”, but Lampert wasn’t going to point that out.  “First of all, the gravity only becomes inescapable at the Event Horizon, which we don’t plan on getting very close to.  Second of all, there may be something cooking up in the Science department which could solve all our problems.”

      “What’s my stunt-double doing this time?” Jake Philips asked with a smile.  He often referred to Phil Jacobs, the head of the Science department, as his “stunt-double”, because their names were so similar (practically inverses of each other) and the media was always getting them confused.

      “The name of the operation is Space-Lock.  Jacobs claims to have found a way to actually freeze in space.”

      Philips was more than a little confused.  “I’m sorry?  Freeze?”

      “Okay, that was the wrong word.  What I meant is, he’s found a way to hold a position in space without having to set up an orbit of any kind.  All you have to do is press a button and the spaceship will come to a dead stop.”

      “It’s impossible to cancel all velocity in space,” Philips said as though he knew more about science than the Science Department.  “You can cancel all orbital velocity, but then you’d just fall straight down into whatever you’d been orbiting.”

      “That’s exactly what this system prevents from happening,” Lampert explained.  It cancels all velocity in relation to any object.  You could take a helicopter up a few thousand feet, put this system in effect with relation to the Earth’s core, and you’d instantly see the world turning beneath you.  24 hours later, you’d be right where you began.  Or you could freeze in relation to a surface object such as the STAR Building.  You would basically just hover in the same position until you took the system out of effect.”

      Philips was lost in contemplation.  “That’s a pretty amazing idea,” he said.  “But I find it extremely hard to believe that something like that could actually work.”

      “That’s what Arthur Romband’s boss said about interstellar travel,” Lampert remarked without trying to conceal his smile.

      Philips stood up and headed towards the door.  “You know, every single time anyone shows an ounce of scepticism in this company, they’re instantly reminded of Arthur Romband’s boss.  It gets kind of annoying sometimes.”

      Lampert sat back on his chair and put his feet up on his desk.  “Well, it’s that attitude that’s gotten us this far.”

      Philips, with his hand on the doorknob, proceeded to close the discussion.  “The crew needs to know what to train for.  If this Space-Lock thingy actually works, I want to be the first to know.  We’ll set everything up for a return-trajectory by way of the galactic core.”  His tone then got even more serious.  “But if it looks like there may be any glitches at all, or that this thing won’t be completed by half-way through training, we’re scrapping it and coming back by way of the Sun no matter how much precision we have to sacrifice.” 
 Lampert smiled and nodded.  Philips left the room and Lampert decided to go on an early lunch-break.  There was nothing he loved more than a good argument, and while this one was very mild and one-sided, it served to set the thoughts straight in his mind.  He had planned on the galactic-core trajectory from the beginning, but somehow, it wouldn’t have seemed right to him unless there had been a debate over it.
 
 

Chapter 6

Time:  1:00 p.m.  June 24, 3421  Eastern Time

Place: STAR Administration Building, Tallahassee 

      A lot went into preparing for a single mission in space, especially when the mission was a first of its kind.  The first week was usually the busiest, then things began to calm down as the business of mission preparation became routine.  Normal interstellar missions were still being carried out on a fairly regular basis, but the B and C teams were the ones controlling them.  The A team was at work solely with the Andromeda mission.

      This team included the top administrators, who worked towards putting the big picture together, the astronauts, who trained for their specific roles on board the ship as well as their back-up duties, and the mission controllers, who added the details to the big picture.  There are a few mission controllers who may be worth mentioning, but our story is mainly concerned with the astronauts.

      I won’t go into detail about all of the astronauts, because almost half of them shared the same basic life story.  They were born in a rich neighbourhood somewhere in North America, were raised under the ideal that working for STAR was among the most prestigious careers in life, and that becoming the C.A. of STAR was more important and respectable than becoming the president of Earth. Many STAR astronauts were only waiting around for an opening in an administrative job, and quite a few of these astronauts were chosen to go to Andromeda.  They were the best, and they were the best only because they strove for an impressive résumé that would impress the STAR Administrators.  “Mark Staff has applied for head of the Science Department?” they would say.  “Well, he is the best scientist around!  Let’s get him in here for an interview.”

      People like Medical Officer Lily Zaw, Surgeon Ronald Stark, Scientist Mark Staff, and Ship Supervisor Maria Wendall were all born to upper middle-class families that paid for their tuition to the Clark University.  They each majored in their respective fields, and were given jobs as astronauts.  Each of them then worked their hardest as they had always been taught to do, and rose to the tops of their fields.  Now, Lily Zaw and Ronald Stark awaited an opening in the Medical division so they could be the ones to oversee all the doctors and surgeons in the company like Leslie Johnson.  Maria Wendall waited for the job of Maria Altman in the spacecraft development division of the Spaceflight department.  Mark Staff aimed higher, at the job of Phil Jacobs, to become the head of the Science Department, and then, hopefully, the C.A. of the entire STAR Administration.  All of these people agreed to go on the Andromeda mission; not because of their pioneering spirit or passion for space, but because a refusal would mean a drop in their prestige, and an acceptance would mean instant fame, as well as financial security.  They would receive a years’ salary, and would be paid for all 8,760 hours of it, overtime for all hours that would normally not be spent working, and a huge bonus upon successful completion of the mission.  For these astronauts, that would be enough money to retire on.  They would be paid upon return with all the money adjusted for inflation.  All of this was of course contingent on whether or not the STAR Administration still existed upon their return.  Yet they were all willing to take the risk.

      One astronaut who wasn’t involved for the money was Craig Malls.  He was born rich, and his parents had encouraged him to be a lawyer.  But Malls, having a below average IQ, wasn’t smart enough to be a lawyer, and wasn’t interested in law.  It was space that captivated his mind.  From the day he got his first space simulator for his computer, he knew he wanted to be a STAR Astronaut, and although it took his family years to accept this, he finally convinced them when he took his first job at a local planetarium.  Realising at this point that their son would never break through his academic barriers, they gave in and supported him for the rest of his education.  It took an extremely large donation to get him into the Clark University.  He majored in Astronomy, and became a STAR Scientist, and through his charisma, climbed the ladder to become an astronaut.  People would always say, “he’s not very bright, but he’s probably the most motivated person in this company.”  It was not for his talent as a scientist but for his passion for space that Jake Philips chose him to go on the Andromeda mission, and when he was approved for the mission, he couldn’t have been happier.

      Another special case was that of Todd Blankens, a Medical Officer for STAR.  He was never interested in space, and desired only to be a regular doctor.  He went into medical school rather than Clark University, and through his brilliance became one of the top-rated doctors on the planet.  His fame was what made him an attraction to STAR.  He was offered a job in the Administration as an astronaut, but he turned them down.  STAR, however, didn’t give up that easily, and after receiving a higher offer he agreed, although he made it absolutely clear that he hated space, astronomy, and anything to do with it.  In truth, he had a fear of open spaces, and nothing was more open than the vastness of space.  He just never admitted this to anyone for fear of embarrassment.  When he was on a mission, he would usually self-medicate to help him with his problem, and he would usually stay very quiet and still, unless something went wrong that would require his expert medical attention.  Blankens was actually dreading the mission to Andromeda, but he couldn’t turn it down.  All that money meant retirement, which meant that he would never have to go into space again. 

      Jim Lampert’s first order of business in the afternoon was to pay a visit to Maria Altman in her office.  During the Tuesday Morning meeting, he had assigned all of the administrators from his department different jobs.  Altman, being the head of the Spacecraft Development division, had been assigned to come up with a design for the spaceship that the astronauts would be taking, which was named, very unimaginatively, the Andromeda.

      Lampert walked through the halls of the first floor until he came to the entrance to the Spacecraft Development portion of the STAR building, which took up the most space out of all the divisions of STAR.  Above the door was a sign that read “While other companies strive to get the job done fast, we strive to get the job done right.”  This had been the slogan of the Spacecraft division ever since the first days of the company, when it had to compete with other space companies for such pioneering missions as landing on Venus and Pluto.  Other companies would always beat STAR to be the first, but they also failed frequently.  STAR would always get there, and they would never lose a single astronaut in the process.  STAR was not so lucky anymore when it came to the lives of their astronauts, but mission-related deaths were still relatively infrequent, and usually came in bunches from particularly difficult missions, rather than just random isolated incidents.  But they still had to be given credit—never in their history had they lost an entire manned ship.

      Lampert had to walk through the warehouse before he reached Altman’s office.  This was always a very noisy place, where the mechanics would be building everything from Space Shuttles to Space Taxis, as well as any special spacecraft that STAR would require for a new mission type.

      Maria Altman’s office was in plain view, and the door was wide open as it usually was.  She was huddled over her desk showing a blueprint to a mechanic when she looked up and saw Lampert, who waved to her.  She waved back, and then dismissed the mechanic.

      “Hello, Ms. Altman,” Lampert said in the friendliest tone he had.  “Are the plans ready yet?”

      “Good afternoon, Mr. Lampert,” she said.  “Yes, they are.  I was actually just showing them to our head mechanic.”

      “Good.  Remember, I requested something similar to our regular Explorer model, with only minor modifications.”

      Altman showed him the paper.  “This is just a rough sketch of what it’ll look like.  It’s not the actual blueprint, but I think you can see that it’s almost identical to the Explorer.  I only had to make a few modifications to the original design.”

      Before I attempt to describe what the spaceship looked like, I’ll have to explain the Explorer model, because it’s almost exactly the same as the Andromeda.  This kind of writing gets a little tedious, especially when it comes to reading it, but I assure you that if you pay attention, it won’t be difficult to comprehend, and you will find it much easier to picture the story in important sections down the line.  I know it’s somewhat “unorthodox” to tell you when to pay attention, but I’m just letting you know for your own benefit.  Keep your mind on the description for the next few moments and you will enjoy the story a lot more.

      The Explorer was the standard ship used in interstellar missions.  It consisted of three basic chambers: the cockpit, the living quarters, and the powerhouse.  The cockpit was long and shaped like a triangle but with a flat head at the front instead of a point.  The window stretched from the back of the cockpit where the exterior met the living quarters, and slanted inwards until it reached the front, where it was like a giant, flat windshield that covered the entire foremost region of the ship.

      The living quarters were right behind the cockpit, where beds for all twelve crewmembers would be set up.  In the back of the living quarters was the food storage area and kitchen where the astronauts could easily pick out and prepare a canned meal.  The sink was equipped with working water, which was stored below the living quarters, and through a recycling process was enough to provide showers and drinks for a crew of twelve for as long as they needed.  Bathrooms were on either side of the front of the living quarters, next to the entrance to the cockpit.

      Behind the back wall of the living quarters, there was nothing.  Just two long beams of metal with joints in their centres that connected the rest of the ship to the powerhouse or “engine room”, where the solar panels were located for the interstellar drive, and the oxygen was produced.  Three long tubes, just big enough for a human to crawl through, extended from the powerhouse to the living quarters, and penetrated the walls a few feet above the kitchen counter.  These tubes brought the oxygen from the powerhouse to the living quarters and cockpit of the ship.  Situated above the powerhouse was the antenna for communications with Earth.

      Between the living quarters and the powerhouse, below the oxygen tubes and held in place by the long metal beams, was the lander.  This was the only part of the ship that could make a safe landing on a planet.  On a regular mission, eleven crewmembers, excluding only one pilot, would enter the lander through a portal below the living quarters.  The metal beams would contract by their joints, leaving just enough room for the lander to float down out of the vicinity of the mother spaceship, and have the pilot take it down for a landing on whichever planet or moon the mission had been to.

      The Andromeda, as I said, was almost exactly the same.  The living quarters and lander portions were exactly the same, and the powerhouse only had some slight differences, in that it had slightly larger dimensions, and there were more solar panels on the outside.  The main difference was in the cockpit.  In the Explorer, the cockpit window was made up of three sections (two slanted and one flat in front), all of the same height.  Above them, the roof was solid metal and slanted upwards from the front until it attached to the top of the living quarters from the back.  The interesting feature in the Andromeda is that the ceiling was now made from the same glass as the window, so the astronauts could see not only everything that was around them, but they could also look up as well.

      Okay, that’s over with.  I’m not going to describe the ship again, so if you didn’t get it this time, you’ll just have to read it again, or be content to read the story without having any sort of clear image in your mind as to the character’s surroundings.

      Jim Lampert only had a few things to say.  “Exactly what purpose will the ceiling window serve?”

      Maria Altman smiled.  “None.  I just always thought the Explorer would look nicer with a window that took up the entire upper half of the cockpit, so that when the astronauts sit down, they won’t even be able to tell they’re in a spaceship.  It’ll look to them as if they’re in open space, just sitting on a platform.”

      Lampert nodded in approval.  “I love that idea.  I guess you were just waiting for the opportunity to try it out?”

      “This seemed like the perfect time,” she said.

      “And one more thing,” Lampert continued, “the lander.  We won’t be needing one.  The astronauts will spend all their time in the actual ship itself.  We won’t be landing on anything.”

      Altman sighed.  “Mr. Philips came in yesterday to make sure we had a lander on the ship.  He said it’s in case of an emergency.”

      Lampert puzzled over this for a second.  Why was Philips going behind his back and giving orders to people on the same administrative level as himself?  “What kind of an emergency?”

      “I think Jake…I mean…Mr. Philips is overly concerned about the mission.  He keeps talking about how we’re only concerned with “our part,” or something like that.  Anyway, he said we need a lander in case the astronauts need to land.”

      “You mean like if they come back…”

      “...and there is no space station to dock with.”

      Lampert shuddered at this thought.  “Five million years is a long time.”

      “That’s what Jake has been saying.”

      Jim Lampert put down the paper and congratulated Maria on a job well done.  She informed him that they could begin construction on the ship as early as next month, just as soon as all the parts reached Ring Station 4. 

      There are two more men from the Andromeda crew whom I haven’t mentioned, but who played a key role in the mission.  The first of these is the man who would be primarily concerned with the antenna on the back of the spaceship.  This man is Jack Peskie.  The second I will get to later.

      Peskie was born in the heart of New York City, on the island of Manhattan.  He had two older brothers, the younger of which was already in High School when he was born.  Needless to say, he was not a planned child, but his parents celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary only three months after he was born.

      His parents were very old as he grew up, and though he was not an only child, it seemed that way once the second of his brothers moved off to college.  He was forced to amuse himself, and he became quite good at it.  In school, he tried his hand in amusing other people, and almost became as good at that.  He was the class clown all the way through High School, until they made it official by voting him into that title.

      When he went out into the real world, Peskie realised, much to his dismay, that things that were hilarious in school were not so funny in contexts other than the classroom.  After a horrible attempt at stand-up comedy (of which he vowed never to speak of again), he went to college and got a degree in communications.  He tried to decide what the most fun job he could get with a communications degree was, and he came up with either weatherman, or astronaut.  Since weatherman required a separate degree in meteorology, Peskie moved down to Tallahassee, and got a job at STAR as a mission controller.

      He married shortly thereafter, to a woman he had unwittingly got pregnant while she was drunk.  He, on the other hand, had been perfectly sober.  The divorce came only a few months after their son was born, but Peskie was given custody of the child due to the mother’s uncontrollable drinking problem.  Peskie remained faithful to her, and helped her through her problems until she fully recovered, but they both agreed that he should keep custody, and they would be better off if she saw other people.

      Peskie was, at this point, too busy with his career to bother finding a new step-mom for his child.  He was promoted to astronaut, and let his son stay with his ex-wife during all the long stretches when he was away on a mission.  Peskie personally decided that it was the job of the communications guy to also serve as the comic relief on long missions, and most astronauts who flew with him enjoyed his company so much that they would actually request to be on the same crew with him again.  Apparently, the same type of humour that was funny in classrooms was funny on spaceships.

      He wasn’t STAR’s first choice to be the communications man for the Andromeda mission, but he was a close second.  He was actually quite skilled, albeit hiding it behind layers of bad jokes and acting stupid.  There were two sides to Jack Peskie, and most people never saw the other side, the one that cared for his son more than anything in the world, and who went through great pains at the decision to go on the mission.  He was just the back up, and had no idea that the medics would reject Ian Landon and let him go.  By the time all of his second thoughts came flooding in, he was already approved to go on the mission, and he didn’t want to say anything.  He wanted to go to Andromeda very badly, but he didn’t want to give up his son either.  In the end, the call of the unknown and his own imagination won out over all his other passions, and he decided to boldly go where no man had gone before, and just hope his son would be okay without him. 
 

Chapter 7

Time:  8:00 a.m.  June 27, 3421  Eastern Time

Place:  Conference Room, STAR Corp. Building 

      It was the weekly Monday meeting of the top STAR Administrators, and all three of them were present, as well as Mike Romband.  In this particular meeting, Jake Philips had been invited to sit in and add his own piece to discussions of the spotlighted mission.

      Mike Romband started the meeting.  “It’s been only about two weeks since we first opened Mission: Andromeda, and from what I’ve heard, so far we’re moving along greatly.  I couldn’t have expected things to go any better.  Everything is moving by so quickly, it’s hard to keep up.  What are the orders of business for today?”

      Jim Lampert stood up, “The Spaceflight department would like a report from the Science department about Operation: Space-lock.”

      Romband gave the nod to Phil Jacobs, and the head of the Science department stood up.  “I’m glad you raised that topic, Mr. Lampert, because I would have done so myself.  Our scientists and I have finally come up with a way to hold a fixed position in space.”

      “You made it work?” Romband said in a tone of approval.  “That’s excellent.”

      Jacobs then went on to explain the space-lock system in full.  He explained how it had the capability to use existing gravity and artificial gravity (which had been invented in the prior century) to counter-act each other and cause an object to hold a fixed position in relation to any other massive object.

      “Just this past Saturday,” said Jacobs, “we launched a model rocket from the STAR Field to a near-earth asteroid and initiated the system.  With just one anti-gravity space-lock pad attached to it, it broke all velocity in relation to the asteroid, and held perfectly still just one kilometre above it.”

      “That’s incredible,” said Romband.  “Mr. Lampert, out of curiosity, is there a reason you wanted to know about this?”

      Jacobs sat down, while Lampert spoke from his seat.  “If it’s possible, Mr. Philips and I would like to use this system to bring the Andromeda spaceship home on a trajectory with the galactic core rather than our sun.  We could use the space-lock system to ensure that the ship is safe from the gravity of the black hole there.”

      Romband looked at Jacobs.  “I don’t know, Phil.  Do you think your system could hold up against the gravity of a black hole? 
 “Theoretically, sir, it could hold up against anything.”  Jacobs was a very proud person, and justifiably so.  The way he saw it, there was nothing the imagination could conjure that science couldn’t make possible.  If you could imagine something done, there was a way to do it.  “The stronger the pull of the gravity, the stronger the system.  This system could hold up even beyond the event horizon, and freeze something in a position from which not even light can escape.”

      Jake Philips made a slight breathing noise through his nose.  When everyone looked at him, he knew he had to speak.  “I’m sorry, but this just sounds like nonsense to me.  You’re talking about freezing in a point beyond the event horizon of a black hole. You can’t go into a black hole and survive.”

      “I’m not saying that,” Jacobs defended.  “I’m saying you could go inside and freeze there.  Of course, you’d never be able to get back out, but you could look around for as long as you’d want.”

      “I’m not talking about imagination here, Phil.  I’m talking about reality.  I know you’d be the first to volunteer to dive head first into a black hole and clutch merrily to your back-pack while waiting to initiate this little system that’ll let you look around while inside.  You’re still dead.  Your backpack may stay in one position for the rest of eternity, but once you’re inside, the gravity will rip you open.  You’ll be torn apart at all the joints as you clutch hopelessly to the straps.  Then as you fall and the gravity becomes infinitely stronger as you get closer to the centre, and the pull is harder on your feet than your head, the atoms in your body will stretch out for kilometres until you’re not you but merely a stream of tiny atomic particles hurtling towards the centre of nowhere.  That’s reality.”

      The room was silent.  Philips spoke up again.  “I know I sound over-sceptical, but try to understand where I’m coming from,” he pleaded.  “These astronauts are not just numbers to me.  I know these people.  Their lives have been in my hands time and time again as I talked to them from mission control while they were out exploring alien landscapes and doing the impossible.  I’ve been woken up in the middle of the night when there was an oxygen-bust or some other problem and I’ve guided entire crews of people back to the safety of Earth orbit.”

      Romband interrupted him.  “We know that, Jake.  STAR is very proud to have you as the head of mission control.  But we don’t understand why you have such a reluctant attitude towards this mission.”

      “Because we don’t have to worry about this mission once it’s under way,” he began.  “All we have to do is get them into space, onto their ship, and blast them away.  And then we’re done, and nobody will hear from them again for…what is it?…a million years!  Everyone is just doing their part and not caring about what’s going to actually happen when the mission is over.  It’s like they don’t realise that these people have to come back.  And it won’t be five million years to them.  To them, it will be one year.  They’ll still be young when they come back.  And it’ll be the year five million.  What kind of a world are they going to be returning to?  That’s what I’m concerned about.  I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m trained to look at a mission from the viewpoint of reaching its conclusion.  Everyone else’s job is to get them off the ground, and mine is to bring them back down to it.  I want to know what kind of ground they’re going to be stepping on.  We’re not talking about a few months here like our normal missions are.  We’ve never gone this far into space before, not even close.  We’ve hardly even left our local group of stars, for god’s sake.  And now we’re going to a different galaxy!  And I just don’t think people here understand that.  I don’t think anyone can comprehend it.  Who here can honestly say that their mind can grasp the amount of time that five million years is?  Nobody can.  And yet here we are, sending twelve people on a journey that will take them farther than any human mind can comprehend.  Everyone is so concerned about whether or not we can do it, that they don’t stop to think if we should do it.  Now, I’ll do my part.  But my concern is for those twelve souls who are going to be on board that ship.  And I think that’s where all our minds should be.”

      Philips stopped.  If there was one thing he was good at, it was long speeches; he was famous for the pep talks he would give to the mission controllers before every difficult mission.  The room was silent as everyone contemplated what he had said.  They knew he was right.  Jim Lampert was the first to speak.

      “You voted against me,” he said, just coming to this revelation.  “When I proposed the idea, you were one of the two that voted against me.”

      Mike Romband spoke up.  “Mr. Philips, we’d like to thank you for your input.  Now if you don’t mind I think you should leave us to consider what you’ve said.”

      Jake Philips said nothing as he stood up and walked out the door.  Lampert was still stunned that Philips hadn’t endorsed the mission.  This was supposed to put him in his glory, and get his name in the history books.  Everything Lampert thought he knew about Philips had suddenly taken a serious turn.  He had no idea how much passion Philips had for his astronauts.

      When Philips was gone, the room stayed silent for a little while.  Romband, as usual, broke the silence.  “He’s right you know.  I’m as guilty as everyone else is.  We’re not thinking of what this mission really means.”

      Phil Jacobs spoke.  “The men and women who are going on the mission know full well what the implications are.”

      “I agree,” said Lampert.  “And not one of them refused.  I think Jake is just nervous.  He puts his heart and soul into his job.”

      “Well, I think you should go talk to him,” Romband said to Lampert.  “If we want this mission to be successful, we need that kind of heart and soul.” 

      One of the astronauts that Jake Philips was especially close to was Elliot Larken.  Larken was born and raised in California, and was the oldest of three children, the other two being sisters.  He decided that he wanted to be an astronaut before he decided he wanted to be a surgeon, which was rare when it came to STAR medics.  He went to Clark University, and developed an interest in medicine while there.  So instead of going straight to STAR for a job, he went off to a medical school in California for another few years to get his degree in Surgery.

      It was in medical school that he met the woman who would be his wife, Maura.  Maura, however, was totally against Larken’s career choice.  She wanted to stay in California and open up a medical practice together, but Larken’s heart was set on Tallahassee and a job at STAR.  In the end, Maura lost out and the two moved to Tallahassee when Elliot was given a job as a ground surgeon.  He didn’t become an astronaut right away, but was instead transferred to the STAR base at Io, where they were badly in need of medical personnel.

      It was on Io that Larken grew a fascination with the planet Jupiter, of which Io was a close satellite.  It was also there that his marriage began to fall apart.  Maura hated living so far from Earth, let alone so far from California.  She constantly begged Elliot to quit and move back with her, but he made it clear that he was perfectly content to stay right where he was.  His heart was stolen by the big colourful sphere in the sky, which Maura found to be far less than romantic.  When she discovered she was pregnant, Maura left in the middle of the night while Elliot was asleep, and took a space taxi back to Earth.  She wasn’t going to raise her child on a cold volcanic moon of a gas giant.  Elliot never found her, and his pride kept him from looking.  If he’d known she’d had his baby, however, he might have gone looking for her.  He would never know he had a son.

      Soon after, Larken received his first big break when he was promoted to astronaut, and served as a surgeon on real interstellar missions.  However, he found that he wasn’t at home unless he was in his own solar system, and he missed the planet Jupiter.  He would frequently go back to visit Io, and stare out at the gargantuan gaseous sea of clouds.  It was his idea to attempt to explore it.

      Elliot Larken’s next several years were devoted to the exploration and colonisation of Jupiter, and he grew to be one of the most respected astronauts in the STAR Administration, and among the most famous men in space travel.  This, however, was not without its price.  On the very first mission, the harsh Jovian atmosphere made Elliot the sole survivor of an original crew of five.  Yet this was nothing compared to the tragedy that befell Elliot on the first colonisation mission.  This unspeakable incident, coupled with the merciless pull of Jupiter’s strong gravity, made Larken a depressed man, and suffocated the flame of passion for the planet that had burned in him for so many years.  When the task of choosing a crew for the Andromeda mission came up, Jake Philips knew that such a mission was just the escape that Elliot needed.

      And so Elliot Larken accepted his position as surgeon on board the Andromeda, and looked forward to a year spent as far away from the planet Jupiter and all its painful memories as he could get. 

      It wasn’t until after regular working hours had gone by and the light in the sky was dimming that Jim Lampert walked into the office of Jake Philips.  Philips was reclining on his desk chair, his eyes closed, feet upon his desk, listening to some smooth jazz music from the 27th century, when that type of music had made a comeback.

      “I figured you would have gone home early,” said Lampert.

      Philips opened one eye, and very casually sat upright on his chair and took his feet off the desk.  “Nah, I’ve been here all evening.”

      “Still thinking about the mission?” Lampert asked, taking a seat in the chair beside the desk.

      “It’s just too much for me to fathom, Jim,” said Philips.  “Something about the whole thing just doesn’t seem right.”  He opened his desk drawer and took out a box of cigarettes and a lighter.  He offered one to Lampert, but he declined.  Philips lit his cigarette and inhaled.

      “You know, those things are dangerous,” Lampert said, for lack of anything better to say.

      “Not these,” Philips replied.  “These are made without anything that could be detrimental to your health.  They’re not even addictive.”

      “Then why do you smoke them?” asked Lampert.

      Philips smiled and ignored the question.  “Now cigars, on the other hand,” he began, “Cigars are full of the shit that’ll give you cancer.  I’ve probably smoked more victory cigars than I’ve smoked these.”  Philips inhaled again, and leaned back, exhaling the smoke as the familiar buzz came over him.

      “On second thought,” said Lampert, “let me have one of those.”

      “You’re the boss,” answered Philips, and leaned forward to give the box to Lampert, who took one out and fumbled with the lighter.  “Here, let me,” Philips said, and he lit Lampert’s cigarette for him.  Lampert inhaled deeply, and erupted in a fit of coughing.

      Philips laughed and sat back again, turning up the volume of his computer, making the music a little bit louder.  “In just a few months they’ll be gone, Jim,” he pondered.  “And no matter what happens to them, we sure as hell won’t see them again.  Every 7 minutes to them is 80 years here, an average human lifespan.  To them it’ll take five minutes and we’ll all be dead.  Anything after that is not our problem.”

      Lampert thought for awhile about what he could say, but his mind kept coming up empty.  Finally, he just opened his mouth and decided that he would just say whatever came out.  “They’ll come back,” he said, “and they’ll know a feeling of accomplishment that none of us could even imagine.”

      This statement seemed to amuse Philips a lot.  He chuckled under his breath until the laughter broke out of containment and the janitors down the hall could hear him.  Lampert didn’t understand what was so funny, but Philips’s laughter was a surprisingly contagious thing, and he began to chuckle as well.

      Philips took one last breath from his cigarette and then put it out in the ashtray.  Lampert hadn’t taken a breath since the first one, but he also put his cigarette out.

      “You know something,” Philips began, “when I was a kid, I always wanted to go to the moon.  Didn’t you want to go to the moon when you were a kid?”

      “I think all kids do,” answered Lampert.

      “Well, I really wanted to go, but back then it wasn’t so simple.  You couldn’t just hop into a taxi and go there like you can nowadays.  I mean, you still have to get a permit to ride in a taxi, but back then, those permits weren’t so easy to come by.”  Philips closed his eyes and spoke as if he was talking from a dream.  “When I was a kid I had this astronaut action-figure.  I named him Neil after Neil Armstrong, my hero.  I used to play with him all the time, and send him on pretend missions to the moon.  But it was always just make-believe, you know?  It was never real.  I always had a problem with things that aren’t real.  Like I was never into video games.  They were just too artificial, if you know what I mean.

      “Anyway, one day I asked my dad if we could send Neil to the moon for real.  He decided it would be fun, and we built a model rocket together.  It wasn’t the cheap stuff, either.  We actually got the material that could launch a model into orbit.  I remember we strapped Neil to the rocket with duct tape and launched it in the backyard.  He pointed it at the moon, and set it off.  That was the last I saw of old Neil.

      “But I was always waiting for him to come back.  I was just a kid; I didn’t know that the rocket never made it to the moon.  It probably burned up in the atmosphere, or maybe it’s still in orbit, I don’t know.  I don’t think I ever will.  But I would constantly think about it, and whenever I looked up at the moon I would always wonder if Neil was up there, looking back at me.

      “Of course, now I’ve actually been to the moon.  I took a vacation there when I first got a job at STAR.  And you know, even though I knew he wasn’t up there, I always kept an eye open for Neil.  I thought I might spot that little rocket buried in the lunar surface, just sticking out above the dust, with Neil still strapped to it.  The point is, when I was young it felt like an accomplishment, but as I grew older I realised it was nothing.  We just shot some plastic into space.  We never really accomplished anything.”

      Jim Lampert waited for Philips to go on, but it soon became apparent that he was done with his story.  “These people aren’t plastic, Jake,” he said.  “They’re real, and we’re not just blasting them away.”

      Philips’s next movement was so sudden that it almost caused Lampert to leap out of his seat.  He lurched forward with a jerk, and his eyes were wide open.  “That’s my point, Jim,” he said.  “These people are real, but we are just blasting them away.  It’s like instead of shooting at the moon with plastic, we’re doing it with real people.”

      “Jake, you have to realise that space exploration is not a one-man job,” Lampert began.  “You’re so used to standing up there in front of mission control, directing everything from start to finish.  You don’t realise that you’re job is just a small part of it.  Even the astronauts aren’t doing it all.  Each one of them has their own individual job, and each one of them only serves as a small part of the entire mission objective.  And with this mission, your job is a lot smaller than usual, but it’s still just as important.  We’re not putting these people on a rocket and blasting them to nowhere.  They have a destination, and they will reach it, as long as everyone does their own individual job right.  And your job is not to worry about what will happen in the long run.  Your job is to do your part, and to do the best you can, so we’re not just shooting aimlessly.  Believe it or not, we are going to go to Andromeda, and you are the person to point them in the right direction.”  Lampert felt quite satisfied with that speech.  He wasn’t especially good at pep talks, but this, he felt, was a good one as far as he was concerned.

      Philips was silent for a moment, lost once again in contemplation.  “I guess you’re right,” he said.  “That’s what I always tell everyone in mission control.  ‘You’ve got to do your part, and do it right,’ is what I tell them.  I guess I just needed to listen to my own words.”

      “I don’t know about you, but I’m tired as hell,” said Lampert.

      “Let’s get out of here,” Philips agreed, and proceeded to shut down his computer.

      “Take tomorrow off, Jake,” said Lampert.  “Just let all of the stress out before you come back in.”

      “No, I thrive on stress,” Philips remarked.  “But I hope you won’t mind if I come in late and miss the committee meeting tomorrow.”

      “Not at all,” said Lampert. 

      Before Lampert had gone to visit Philips, he had finished the remainder of the flight plan for Mission: Andromeda.  This is what the rest of it looked like: 

  1. Rendezvous, Destination: Galactic Core
  1. Rendezvous, Destination: Sun
  1. Rendezvous, Destination: Earth
  1. Rendezvous, Destination: Ring Station 4

      The flight plan should be very self-explanatory.  Upon reaching the other side of the Andromeda galaxy, the ship would orient itself with the core of the Milky Way galaxy, and thrust for almost three months.  This would get it back through the Andromeda galaxy and well on its way to the Milky Way.  There would then be a short period of coasting for communications, and then the next thrusting period would take it to the galactic core.

      There they would find the black hole and initiate the space-lock system.  From there they could easily locate the sun and thrust at a relatively low speed and duration before reaching the solar system.  They would orbit the sun, and then break that orbit and head back to Earth.  They would then find Ring Station 4 (or any space station that would be in that area at the time) and dock with it to await their transportation back to the surface of the Earth.

      The entire mission would take 360 days, and each portion of it would be timed to the exact second and documented so that generations down the line, the people back on Earth would be given a relatively small window of time for which to attempt communications with the spaceship. 

      As Jim Lampert went home, he did feel a sense of accomplishment.  He had imagined a trip to the Andromeda galaxy, as so many before him had done.  But he lived in a world where such a trip was possible, and because he recognised this, and recognised that he had the power to have this possibility realised, he was able to make it happen. 

      Over the next few months, things went along very smoothly.  The Andromeda spaceship was completed near Ring Station 4, and taken to Lunar Station 1 where it would stay in Lunar Orbit until it was summoned back to Ring Station 4 to be outfitted with the crew.

      The astronauts went through their training and back-up training.  The pilots were put in simulators and trained to work the time-scale with extremely precise timing.  The medics became so familiar with the MedScan that they could actually build one themselves, and they were taken through surgery after simulated surgery.  The Scientists studied all the Newtonian and Einsteinian physics in the books.  The Ship Supervisor was made familiar with every part of the ship from the cockpit to the engine room.  The Communications man was re-taught everything about using the communications box as well as supplemental knowledge such as Morse code.  And finally, the Computer specialist was shown everything about the ship’s computer, and even helped to program it himself.

      In what seemed like no time at all (unless it’s taken you months to read this far), the mission was ready to begin.