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Chapter 12

July 10, 2089

Rain had been watching the segments of the Samaritan and other ships carrying supplies arrive in lunar orbit for months. The bright specks of light in the otherwise pitch-black lunar sky were a thankfully temporary bother to the optical astronomers, but not even a glimmer of a problem for her beloved radio telescopes. The arriving ships were all communicating with one another using laser-optical communications. It had taken many strings pulled and a rather wordy “release of medical liability” for the powers that be to allow her to return to the Moon for this phase of the project, but she was here and that was what mattered to her. She would not miss this for the world.

She’d flown from the lunar surface to the orbital space dock, arriving barely two hours ago. The space dock provided the most spectacular view of the Samaritan. She’d asked to stop there before she was taken through the docking tunnel and into the ship proper. From the space dock window, she saw the majesty of the newly constructed Samaritan for the first time and the haphazard appearance of the space dock still under construction. The space dock was being upgraded to what would one day be a self-sufficient construction facility for what was planned to be a series of interstellar exploration vessels like the Samaritan. Given the Proximan fertility crisis, completion of the Samaritan was a higher priority than the space dock and all the other in-system ships under construction. Evidence of that decision could plainly be seen by looking through the window.

Once complete, the Samaritan would use its fusion drive to take it to roughly the orbital distance of Mars before the onboard photon drive would be activated. As she understood it, the drive accelerated by emitting photons, lots of photons, instead of reaction mass. Without having to carry heavy fuel, the ship could accelerate to speeds in excess of seventy percent the speed of light, perhaps above eighty percent. The only drawback was the danger posed by the photons, the light, that accelerated the ship. It was essentially a death ray, a superpowered laser that, if aimed at a spacecraft or even a planetary surface, could do significant damage. The ship had to be sufficiently far away from anything that might fall into the emitted beam when it was operational—hence the need to begin the interstellar journey at or beyond the orbit of Mars.

While the view of Samaritan was spectacular, she couldn’t say the same for the ship’s aesthetic. It wasn’t. The Samaritan looked like a long-stemmed mushroom with the photons to be emitted from the base of the stalk. In the head were the supplies and the fusion power station. Along the length of the stalk were the crew quarters, the biolab, and the freezer containing the human embryos. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was impressive. And it was being built because of Rain and her discovery. She was humbled—and determined. She wondered how Captain Crosby would take the news when she told him. Technically, it didn’t matter how he reacted. After all, he was ex-military and was used to taking orders. She hoped, however, that he would take it well. She didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot.

Her guide, an extremely talkative man named Artur something or other—Rain hadn’t really been paying attention when he introduced himself—was giving her a much-too-detailed tour of the space dock as they made their way toward the Samaritan. Since the space dock was spinning, they experienced an acceleration roughly equivalent to that she was used to on the lunar surface. The only difference was the slight dizziness she experienced due to the Coriolis force, causing the vestibular system to send conflicting signals to her brain regarding her orientation and sense of motion every time she bent over or turned her head too quickly.

“…and the ship’s Samara Drive, the photon rocket, will make the trip to Proxima Centauri possible in a fairly short amount of time. On the other side of the station, work is beginning on the next starship—which doesn’t yet have a name—that is rumored to have a vastly different sort of onboard power system that will enable more rapid interstellar travel. The consortium building it hasn’t released much information, so I’m afraid there isn’t much I can say about it. However, if you consider…”

I’ll bet you find a way to say a lot about it even if you don’t really know anything, Rain mused as her talkative guide continued to prattle on without even pausing for much of a breath.

“…then the ship will turn around and begin decelerating. What speeds up, must slow down, you know? Since the ship is therefore under constant acceleration, the crew will experience fractional Earth gravity for most of the trip. The fusion…” Artur continued.

Rain again tuned him out and gazed out the window, admiring both the nearly completed Samaritan and her beloved Moon they were circling. She gazed out the window and then noticed it was quiet. Artur had stopped talking and was looking expectantly at her. She had no idea what he had just said.

“I’m sorry, what was that?” Rain asked, trying to look both attentive and apologetic for having missed some nuance in whatever her guide had just said.

“I asked if you were ready to move on. The captain was expecting you on the bridge fifteen minutes ago. We’re running late,” he said.

“Absolutely. Please lead the way. I will be right behind you,” Rain said, motioning in the direction they’d been moving, assuming it was the right way to where they needed to be.

“Great. Then please follow me,” Artur said as he stepped forward to lead her in the direction she’d motioned. He continued, “Now, this corridor didn’t start out as a walkway to the starships, it was originally used to connect the first lunar orbital node to the power and propulsion module, making…”

* * *

“Dr. Gilster, it is great seeing you again.” Captain Sam Crosby smiled as he moved toward her and extended his right hand. Rain and Sam Crosby were casual acquaintances, having crossed paths at various meetings on the Moon and in the planning meetings for the Samaritan’s first voyage. Rain liked Sam. He was professional, courteous, and open-minded about new scientific discoveries. With his chiseled facial feature, high cheekbones, aquiline nose, and regulation issue soldier’s physique, she found him quite attractive—but way too young for him to show any interest in her beyond professional. She might as well have been his grandmother.

“Sam, please call me Rain. You and I are well beyond honorifics at this point. Unless, of course, I need to use your title around your crew?”

“I’d prefer we use first names, here and in public. The crew will understand a visiting scientist not using our vernacular,” he said with a still-beaming smile.

“That’s great, Sam. Thanks again for agreeing to see me with so little time before departure. Are you still on schedule?”

“We are. We plan to leave the dock in a few days. We will sprint to the Samara Limit, light up the drive, and be on our way.”

“This all seems so unreal. It just seems like yesterday that we heard the message for the first time and now here you are, ready to go and meet our cousins at Proxima Centauri,” Rain said.

You heard the message and you advocated for the trip. You are too modest. This wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for you,” he said.

“Sam, I’m glad to hear you say that. I hope you still think as highly of me after our discussion,” Rain said.

Sam looked puzzled as he motioned for Rain to sit in the chair across from his desk. She sat and tried to look as disarming as possible.

“I’m going with you,” she said, deciding to be blunt and get to the point as soon as possible. There wasn’t much time to get her gear onboard and familiarize herself with all the ship’s systems, so it was just as well that she cut to the chase and get any resistance to her joining the crew out of the way.

At first Sam didn’t react. He just stared at her.

“I assume I don’t have a say in the matter?” asked Sam.

“Not really. I have a letter of passage from the director general that I will provide. I hope you accept my presence as a plus rather than a minus. I know the Proximans better than just about anyone else alive and I believe my expertise will be invaluable in our first contact with them. I also know that the ship has more than enough room and supplies to accommodate additional crew. I’ve spent most of my adult life in space, mostly on the Moon, and I am in excellent health.” She had also received the full regimen of senescence-retarding therapies, adding at least thirty productive years to her lifespan. But she didn’t think she should mention that; even without it, she would be fit and ready for the trip.

Rain knew that the ship’s crew of twenty-five could easily be expanded to thirty or more. The cryosleepers would allow her and most of the crew to sleep for the duration of the voyage, minimizing the impact on the ship’s food supplies, air, water, etc. Since she had made her decision to force her way into the crew, Rain had been diligently reading everything she could about the ship, working her way through the virtual reality training modules used by the rest of the crew, and passing just about all the physical fitness requirements—still, for a fifty-two-year-old woman who had spent a significant amount of time in the low lunar gravity, she did well.

“Rain, you know I have the highest respect and admiration for you and your work. I also know that you would be a fantastic addition to the first contact team because you do know more about the Proximans than anyone else alive. But I must remind you that this is a one-way trip. Your own protocols require that to avoid cross contamination. Once we leave the solar system, there is no coming back.”

“I am all too aware of that, Sam. I honestly cannot imagine not going with you. I would be miserable remaining here, learning of what’s happening at Proxima Centauri four and a half years after it really happened, not being able to contribute anything meaningful as a result. No, I need to be on this ship,” she said.

“To be honest, in the back of my mind, I expected you to get yourself assigned to the crew sooner than now. Welcome aboard,” he said as he put out his hand.

Rain accepted his handshake, making her grip as firm as she could. She couldn’t decide if she was surprised by Sam’s acceptance or not. No matter, as she was certainly happy with his reaction.

“Artur’s waiting outside. I’ll ask him to show you your quarters and give you a personal tour of the ship. I assume you’ve already taken the VR training?”

“Every single module. I’ve memorized where you keep everything from the gauze bandages to the duct tape. You never know when you’re going to need duct tape,” she said with a smile. Rain was relieved to know that she would be welcomed aboard rather than just grudgingly accepted. “You reckon the Proximans have duct tape? I mean, if we run out…”

“Hahaha, we’ll take extra. And I would expect nothing less from you, and I guess you are likely as prepared as the rest of my crew. Please be at the all-hands meeting tonight at nineteen hundred and I will inform the crew. It’s a shame you didn’t join us earlier. This team has been training together for the last five months and it may be a little awkward to have someone new dropped into the mix. But we’ll make work—given who you are,” Sam said, still smiling but dismissing her with a wave. “We’ve got years en route to get acquainted.”

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