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by Michael Edelson
Category: Science Fiction/Dark Fantasy
Description: A combination of faster-than-light travel and an energy field telescope made it possible: outrun the light leaving the Earth and gaze back in time. For US Navy Commander Jack Roberts, it is the opportunity of a lifetime. Chosen as a last minute replacement, all he has to do is get the ship and its crew home in one piece and a promising career in space travel is his for the taking. But when the expedition is plagued with inexplicable and unlikely failures, the captain and crew suspect sabotage. The motive seems obvious, as the ability to look back in time raises a question that could undermine the faith of billions; did God really create the world? For the first time in history that question can be answered, assuming Jack can find the saboteur before he or she destroys the ship and kills them all.
eBook Publisher: Club Lighthouse Publishing USA LLC/Club Lighthouse Publishing, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: March 2010
11 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [128 KB]
Reading time: 70-98 min.
IT WASN'T A REAL VIEWPORT, just a dense fibre optic weave that channelled light from the hull to a high resolution display that took up the entire outer bulkhead. The ThruVue logo glowed a pale blue on the panel's bottom right corner, reminding Jack that he wasn't standing in front of an open airlock.
He took a tentative sip of his tea, but it was still too hot. Setting it down on the table to cool, he started walking in circles, hoping the exercise would clear his head. Eighty hours under a neural pacifier in the hop capsule was ridiculous, though he had only himself to blame. He could have plotted the course differently, but he was so damned self conscious he wanted everything to be perfect. When they got back, no one should be able to say that Commander Jack Roberts was a screw up just because he wasn't on the mission roster until a week before launch.
After a few minutes of fruitless pacing, he grabbed his tea cup and started to raise it to his mouth when the ship lurched, like a sudden drop in an elevator. His hand stopped, but the tea rose out of the cup, forming a perfect sphere that sailed towards his face at an alarming speed. He jumped back, realizing too late what had happened and sailed straight up into the ceiling, barely able to save himself from a painful collision by tumbling and kicking off. A week of condensed astronaut training in action.
"Commander Roberts," the ship's intercom blared. "I need you in the drive bay." It was Carl, the engineer. He had a lot of explaining to do.
Jack pulled himself out of the ship's lounge using the inconveniently spaced handholds and floated down the corridor.
"Commander, wait up!" He looked over his shoulder and saw Debbie flying towards him, coming in way too fast. He flattened himself to the wall, waited for her to float past and grabbed her tightly with both hands.
"Hey!" she shouted, trying to push him away. "What the hell?"
He held on, and his added mass slowed her enough for him to bring them to a quick stop.
"Take it easy Miss Watanabe," he said. "You were going too fast." He let her go and she shoved him away, glaring fiercely.
"What are you talking about?" she demanded. "Too fast for what? There's no fucking gravity!"
"Gravity is not what kills you, it's momentum. Remember your training." She was a reporter, not an astronaut, but she was one of the first to be selected for the mission. That meant she'd actually had more recent zero gee training then he did. She must not have paid much attention.
"Fine," she said. "I won't press charges then." She graced him with her award winning smile, and he remembered the first time he'd seen her on CNN, just after the Chinese sank the USS Clinton off the coast of Taiwan. She had been standing on the deck of a guided missile destroyer, her voice barely audible amidst the launching of orbitals carrying their neutron payloads to the Chinese moon base. That had to be almost ten years ago, and she still looked exactly the same.
"Thank you," he said. "Now tell me where it is you think you're going."
Her eyes narrowed slightly, just long enough for him to notice, then the smile came back.
"To engineering, with you." She was tiny, barely over five feet, with great big almond eyes expertly enhanced with subtle applications of liner and shadow. He skin was bronze, her auburn hair artfully decorated with strawberry blond highlights. She hardly needed the artifice, but he had to admit it worked in her favour.
"Uh huh. And give me one good reason why I should let you?"
"Because if you don't," she said, pursing her lips. "I'll have to make up a reason why the gravity suddenly cut out right after a hop, and it will probably have something to do with you. Besides, you're supposed to give me full access. It's in my contract."
He smiled and shook his head. "Fine, fine. Let's go. Just stay behind me, no more speeding, okay?"
They didn't run into anyone else on their way to engineering, which was fortunate, since the corridors were narrow and handholds were a design afterthought. They arrived just in time to see Carl almost completely disappear inside the mass interface coupling's access port. A heavy metal lid hovered eerily nearby.
"Carl," Jack said. "What's going on? I almost burned my face off."
"Hold on a sec, sir," Carl said, his voice muffled.
"Did you shut the gravity off?"
"No sir. Went out by itself. I think I see the problem. Wanna come in here with me?"
"What is it?" Debbie asked. "Another malfunction?"
"Hang on," Jack said. "You'll know as soon as I do." He squeezed into the access port next to Carl, careful not to bump his head. There was supposed to be enough room for two people, but it was a tight squeeze with Carl, who was a bear of a man.
"Here," the engineer said, pointing to a bundle of fibre optic cables.
Jack frowned. "It's a data link failure?"
"But how? Those cables don't get hot." It looked like a pair of the cables melted away from the harness. Nothing else appeared to be damaged.
"They don't," Carl said. "But it's possible one of the adjacent components came into contact with them."
"Any idea what did it?" He didn't see how anything could have touched the cables, but Carl was the best engineer in NASA, with more time in space than anyone, alive or dead. Unlike Jack, he wasn't on the mission because of some last minute miracle. If Carl said it could happen, then it could happen.
"Nope," Carl admitted. "None of these circuits show any heat damage."
"The captain will love that."
"I can't do better, Commander," Carl said, shaking his head. "It's the damndest thing I've ever seen." He started to push himself out of the access tunnel. "I'll go get a spare harness."
"Well?" Debbie asked. Jack felt her brush up against his leg as he followed Carl out from under the coupling. "What's going on?"
"Just a minor glitch," Jack said. "We'll have it fixed in a minute." He turned to Carl. "I suppose you'll want me to help you diagnose the entire system. That is why you called me here, isn't it?"
"You got it, sir," Carl said with a guilty grin. "I'd ask the captain, but he's busy fixing..." He paused, glancing at Debbie. "Working on the adjustments to the capsule interface."
"You don't need to dance around me, Lieutenant Commander Linnard," she said, irritated. "I know damned well what happened to the capsules." She didn't miss a thing, it seemed, except perhaps for that ounce of common sense that kept normal people from leaping face first into every war and disaster they could find.
"Alright," Jack said, giving her a sideways look. "Let's get started then. We have an observation window in one hour."