Friday, September 12, 2014

Step Back, Part 11

While on course back to the overwatch position the Eagle had gone into spin mode for internal gravity and dinner was being served in the officers mess.

Robert Heinlein had a question.

“So how did this all start?”

“That’s a good question,” Boatman replied, “the beginning goes a long ways back.”

“The beginning is usually the good place to begin.” Said Virginia Heinlein.

“Well yes, it is.” Boatman replied.

He leaned back in his chair for a moment before starting.

“It began early in my first incarnation on Earth. Even though at the time I normally lived and worked aboard the habitats orbiting Jupiter I occasionally had to physically visit the Earth. For me the Earth was a strange, wondrous and occasionally dangerous place. I was born and raised on Ganymede, one of the moons of Jupiter. I grew up in the domes and tunnels of Ganymede and worked aboard the orbital stations owned by the family firm, the Boatman Corporation.”

“The open skies and natural atmosphere of the Earth had been a new experience for me when came here to attend college. So was effort of living in the naturally higher gravity. Another surprise was the very annoying tendency of the Earthborn to not pay conscious attention to how they moved about. That is to actually look where they were going.”

“I had come to Earth to meet with two clients at Cal Tech. The first meeting was about my Dad’s last big project when he was alive. This was the Niven Deep Space Observatory. It had been placed in a solar orbit that took it well outside the plane of the ecliptic in the Solar System. The primary mission of the NDSO was to detect and observe neutron stars.”

“The Astronomy Department at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California was the primary operator of the NDSO. Our firm, having built the NDSO, now had the contract to maintain and upgrade it. For this I made a rare visit to Earth to speak with the program director, Dr. Bob Petrov, about the next series of upgrades.”

Everyone at the table was looking at Boatman with full attention.

“I asked Doctor Petrov what he wanted to talk about.”

“There was a very odd series of readings they got on an object with the platform. And they wanted to eliminate the possibility of a fault with the platform before publishing a paper on it. The object, which was designated it Niven-69, was at that time very close to the Solar System, well within a light year. The disturbing thing was that they could not detect a lateral movement.”

Heinlein spoke.

“Which was interpreted as meaning that it was headed our way?”

“Yes.” Boatman replied. “My next meeting was at the JPL next door, I brought Dr. Petrov with me.”

JPL was the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Cal Tech. At the present time it was the primary center for the unmanned probe programs of NASA.

On the ground the Sun was rising over the city of Dallas. The Reverend William Grant sat in the study of his home and read the local morning papers.

How could he explain the events of the previous night? The rescue of American servicemen held captive in North Vietnam and the demolition of the Communist military. There was no question that these were virtuous acts.

Or were they?

Satan was an angel of The Lord and had presented himself to men as such. And he was also known as the Bringer of Light. By such deception was he able to corrupt otherwise good men into serving him.

A new question now came to the Reverend Grant’s mind.

Was the child Boatman in fact the incarnation of Satan himself?

Has Satan come to Earth himself in order to deceive Mankind?

Is this The End?

He sat back in his chair to think.

Back on the Eagle Virginia Heinlein had a question.

“So what happened at JPL?”

Boatman answered her.

“My visit to JPL was to report on The Daedalus Project. The Daedalus was a sublight probe constructed to do a flyby of the stars Sirius A and B. During the meeting Bob Petrov and I talked the mission board into changing the destination to Alpha Centauri to search for a habitable planet.”

“And an Earth-like planet was found.” Virginia said.

“Actually two,” Boatman replied, “one each around A and B.”

Robert now had a question.

“Can you describe the Daedalus?”

“Yes, it was a two stage probe. As originally proposed in 1975 she was intended to go 12.5 percent of lightspeed. When we actually built and launched her we got the operating velocity up to twenty percent of C.”

“1975?” Said Robert.

“Yes the British Interstellar Society proposed the mission when it was believed at the time that there was a possible gas giant planet orbiting Barnard’s Star. We actually took the Eagle there on a test mission before coming to Earth and only found a Neptune-Uranus class gas giant and some airless rocks.”

“So you found two good worlds at Alpha Centauri.” Said Virginia.

“Yes, but one of them was already inhabited. Eden, orbiting A, had stone age natives, and very hostile natives at that. The first colonists on the planet were overrun and eaten.”

For everyone at the table that was the end of dinner.

On the ground in his classroom Professor Thomas Archer was in a very foul mood.

How can real progress be made when progressives can be murdered at will from space?

He looked around the classroom. The generally shorter haired boys and neatest and cleanest girls were obviously smiling at the horrible news of what happened to Vietnam.

Well he would teach them a real lesson.
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