STARCHILD X-1

A short story by Marvin Arnold

 

Both of Terra’s moons are below the horizon and this always makes for a dark night. Across a small inlet of water a giant rocket is perched on a brightly lit launch pad. The gantry glows incandescently in the darkness from the light reflecting off of the steam being vented from the rockets massive fuel tanks. There is no sound, except the ripple of the water against the shoreline and the faint noises from insects and birds in the distance.

            Suddenly, the gantry comes alive with flames from the rocket engines that engulfed the spacecraft. Like a Phoenix rising from the midst of an inferno, the missile lifts into the night sky and the chest pounding noise of the rocket engines shatter the silence of the still night air.

The sky glows a bright yellow-gray, then fades slowly back to black, as the missile becomes only a speck of light among a vast star field. Now it seemed even darker than before and the soft native sounds of meadow night return.

* * *

            Inside a brightly lit launch control center, several dozen launch-specialists complete their post-launch procedures.

In the rear of the control room are three men and one woman. The Professor, a tall slender, middle-aged Caucasian man with a gray mustache and beside him a woman Scientist, his long time companion and co-worker at the Space Center. To their left is a guidance control Engineer, a brilliant young oriental fellow who only recently was engaged to be married. To the Professors right is a handsome colored fellow, a command pilot officer and former Astronaut. He and his wife are expecting their first child.

The four watch the large monitor screens that circled the walls as they come alive with telemetry. A loud cheer echoes across the room as workers congratulate one another.

The Professor heads the special research project on Hyper-light space travel code named Starchild. He was there to observe to the launch.

Mounted atop the missal just lunched was a nose cone containing a small Flux-Capacitor capable of warping space and allowing the missal to exceed the known constant.

The launch supervisor approaches the Professor, “Congratulations, Sir, your theory worked. We’ve did it! The missal disappeared as you had predicted it would or at least we couldn’t track it wherever it went. So without a doubt we have now accomplished Hyper-Light speed.”

As the Professor prepares to leave the control center, he turns to his the three colleagues and says, “Meet me at the Skunk Works as soon as you can get away.”

A Skunk Works is a secure hanger used to house top-secret development projects. Currently, an ultra high-speed, high-altitude aircraft known as the Starchild X-1 is being prepared for flight-testing at the site.

The Professor pushes a button in his pocket as he crosses the parking lot to a small silver car. The car’s two doors open vertically and its quiet engine is started. The early morning sun is rising in the west and the poor environmental conditions of the smog in the sky are now readily visible.

This could very well be the planet Earth in some future time, but it is an only slightly more advanced planet many light years away? Terra, as Earth may in the near future, is beginning to suffer from the self-inflected technological atmospheric destruction.

The Professors car passes road signs with lettering similar to Russian and building of futuristic architecture. An all black patrol helicopter follows the Professor's car as he drives up the coastline towards a large hangar in the distance. Someone is watching; somebody does not trust someone.

The well-guarded isolated hangar entry sign reads “Restricted Area” The guard who recognized the Professor passed him through.

Inside the very large, dimly lit hangar, a small craft about the size of a small jet bomber, sat alone in the center of the darken hangar.

The Professor walked slowly around the craft engrossed in deep thought. The name on the side of the craft read Starchild. The six passenger spacecraft X-2 had been built to test the Hyper-light theory, phase two of the project. Phase one of the project was the unmanned nose cone atop the missile launched earlier that day.

            Footsteps across the hangar floor caused the Professor to look up. A darkened figure approached and he recognized the Director of the Space Center.

“The nose cone exceeded light-speed for only three micro seconds, but may be as far as a full light year away. No trace of it has been found as of yet, but I feel that with our sophisticated onboard tracking equipment, there will be no problem in finding and returning the nose cone. However, at sub-light speeds it could take months or even years to recover the nose cone at that distance,” the Director explained to the Professor.

            The Professor seemed pre-occupied.

The Director asked, “Is anything wrong?”

“I don’t understand how science can accomplish something as complicated as developing a Hyper-light spacecraft and then stand idly by and let nations and corporations destroy the world's environment.” the Professor raged.

The Director was startled at the Professor's hostility.

The Professor realized that it wasn’t the Director's fault, but the entire world's fault and he apologized.

The Director accepted the apology from his most gifted scientist and took his leave.

The Professor again stood alone in the darkened hangar staring at the shiny silver Starchild X-2 until his two colleagues arrived.

            The group of three seated themselves around a table that the hanger mechanics, which had gone home for the day, used to play cards. They discussed what would happen if a carbon nuclear bomb were setoff in the present unstable carbon monoxide atmosphere on Terra.

“I would not want to be around to test that theory,” the Professor joked.

The Commander looking very concerned said. “A foreign power placed several carbon-nuclear warhead satellites into orbit some years ago. A project I am involved in, tracts these satellites. We have discovered that one of the satellites is in very low orbit and decaying rapidly.”

            The Engineer added, “I am aware of this too. If the satellite enters the atmosphere, a nuclear chain reaction will occur. I suggested that the satellite be shot down by a missile and was told that it is already too close to our atmosphere.”

            The Professor then revealed, “The untested spacecraft, Starchild, is ready for flight. The craft is capable of carrying unlimited weight, but there are only life support systems for six persons.”

            It was agreed the Astronaut and Engineer would call their wives to join them immediately.

             The Engineer called his wife on the phone.

             “I do not to leave my home and family based on some cockeyed scientific theory that the world is going to end,” she argued, but finally agreed to come.

             The Professor called his girlfriend, the Scientist.

             “I’m on my way!” was all she said and hung up.

             The Starchild was readied for the flight and hangar doors rolled open. At the last minute, each of the three women arrived in time to board the Starchild.

             The craft lifted off into the dark starlit sky.

             “We must remain sub-light until we are well clear of the atmosphere,” the Astronaut explained as they reached the threshold of space.

             The six space travelers looked back at their world. The atmosphere began to glow red at one small point and then the red glow engulfed their familiar blue-white planet.

             The nuclear chain reaction was no longer a theory. There was sadness among the six amateur space travelers. The world as they had known it, no longer existed.

            The Professor assisted by the Commander inserted the Starchild into Hyper-light. Terra became only a point of light in a vast star field behind them.

            They had been traveling at Hyper-light speeds for some time when the Commander, a celestial navigation expert, said, “I have calculated that we should be nearing a sun approximately the same size as our old sun. We need to go sub-light and search for a habitable planet.”

            As the Starchild, slowed and the starlit sky ceased to blur, looming ahead was the planet Earth. It was so much like Terra that they were suspect of what they saw.

Entering Earth orbit, the Scientist made a spectra-analysis of the planet’s atmosphere. “It is pure. This is too good to be true!”

The Astronaut searched for an area with smooth terrain to set the Starchild down. Finally, they made a safe landing in an attractive valley nestled between two large rivers.

* * *

For many years, the small band of travelers lived in the fertile valley between the two rivers, which they named the Tigris and the Euphrates. Except for some friendly animals and wild game, they were alone on the planet.

Several decades passed and the three family groups had grown very large. The three elders met and decided that their best chance of continued survival on this planet would be for them to disburse. They left the beautiful valley that had been their home.

The professor, John English, took his clan and went northwest to Europe.

The tribe of the astronaut, Commander Serengeti, traveled south to Africa.

The house of the engineer, Lu Chin, journeyed east to a land they would call China.

 

“There were giants in those days, when the sons of God came unto the daughters of men and they bore them children. These were the mighty men of old, the men of renown and legend.” Genesis 6:4