The First Starship
Skyler studied the instruments. With the ship’s controls committed to memory, he could fly the Hispaniola in his sleep. The flight simulators were the best in the world, and he made good use of them. His confidence grew in his ship, his support team, and his companion, Acharya.
He and Acharya were a solid combination of flying skills and knowledge. It seemed as if Acharya was born for this mission. He loved telling Skyler about the great astronauts of the past like Neil Armstrong. The stories were inspiring.
“Light this candle,” he once said to James, repeating Alan Shepard’s remarks while waiting on the launch pad for America’s first manned space flight.
Anchor was beside herself with excitement when she found out that Skyler would return in three years instead of twelve. She squealed, jumped up and down, and kissed all the team members. “The women in my church wait almost that long for their missionaries to return. Not that you’d qualify, Skyler, unless the missionary position counts.” Nervous laughter filled the room. Customarily restrained, she was buoyant and could care less.
“Anchor,” Skyler responded in a slow, soft voice. “Three years is still a long time. I can’t ask you to wait that long.”
“You said it again!” she snapped. “You are so infuriating! Do you think I’m a child, incapable of making my own decisions? This is not complicated, Skyler. I’m waiting for you.”
“You’re right, Anchor,” Skyler admitted. “I want you to wait for me. If I came back in ten days and you were with someone else — what the hell was I thinking?”
“Make love to me — now!” demanded Anchor
“Here?” Skyler asked, glancing around the room for a soft spot.
“No, not here, stupid. At the top of Waialeale canyon. You know, the place you call poko-point. I love poko-point.”
Somewhere in the room, the sound of a spinning chair remained, the last sign of a place recently occupied by other people.
“Where’s Skyler?” James asked the group of men huddled in the kitchen area.
“Just a guess, but he’s probably on his way to the top of the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Isaac said.
“What the hell is he doing up there? I need to go over these comps with him!” James said abruptly.
“Trust me, boss, you can wait. He’s with Anchor.”
“Oh,” James said, calming down and acknowledging the suppressed humor in the crowd. “I see. Yeah, I can wait,” he said with a chuckle.
As he walked away, Acharya followed. “You seem tense, James. What is going on?”
“Oh, nothing; Just eager to do what I can to give you two the best shot at success.”
“The awakened sages call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results; all his selfish desires have been consumed in the fire of knowledge.”
“The Bhagavad-Gita?” James asked.
“Correct, boss. By the way, that was an interesting press conference you gave.”
“What did you think of it?”
“Well, it was certainly informative, I would say.”
“Yeah, a little too informative. I know what you’re thinking. I should have dumbed it down; too much technological jargon. I do that sometimes when I’m nervous. I’ll do better next time.”
“It matters not. You have provided a challenge for those responsible for translating for the public,” Acharya said with a smile.
“Good point, my friend,” James laughed. “Next week, we launch. Any regrets?”
“No regrets, James. I was born for this. And thanks to you and the rest of the members of this amazing team, I will fulfill my destiny.”
“You keep an eye on our boy up there. I’ll be in a lot of trouble if you don’t bring him home,” James said.
“I have never seen anyone prepare the way he does. I am quite sure it is Skyler that will be keeping an eye on me. But I was wondering, do you think it is wise to have Anchor handle the CAPCOM during launch? If something happens, then — “
“She’s the best we have, Acharya. I wish she would stay and work for the entire flight. Having her there will help calm Skyler.”
For the first time, the entire world watched an island space launch. Press and observation facilities several hundred yards from the Hispaniola rumbled with activity. The craft didn’t look the way a spacecraft should look to the eyes of the world, and that caused no small amount of curiosity and commentary. Instead of a pointed, vertical, rocket shaped capsule, the Hispaniola looked like a flying saucer with a sweptback tail. The design came from engineers spending too much time swimming with black Stingrays, but the shape worked perfectly with the potacitor.
After several delays caused by a major television network, the two Astronauts fidgeted with anxiety. Skyler couldn’t resist the opportunity to quip, “Forget the press; let’s light this candle.”
Twenty seconds later, Anchor responded. “Countdown has commenced. We now have six minutes and counting for liftoff of the world’s first interstellar spacecraft.” That sounded cool, she thought to herself.
At two minutes, another pause occurred that sent James out of the control room, looking for the investor idiot that authorized a news organization to delay the flight. “Enough of this, gentlemen. I’m taking over the launch from here. We have plenty of cameras ready. If a network is unprepared, they can get copies from the others.”
When the countdown started again, Skyler felt a tickle in his stomach. This is it. He turned and gave Acharya a wink. The astronaut monk seemed to like the reaction and returned a giant smile.
“Thirty seconds and counting,” Anchor said.
“I was thinking about saying something clever when they hook us into the live networks. Something like: to boldly go where no man has gone before,” Skyler said.
“That may not be wise since to boldly go is a split infinitive,” Acharya cautioned.
“You are using a split infinitive, not to mention the obvious impression that women are excluded from such adventures. Since the entire world will be listening, you may want to find a slogan with improved grammar.”
“You’ve got to be kidding! You’re giving me grammar lessons? I’ve heard you talk like a normal person, so I know you have it in you. Besides, if that’s a split infinitive, whatever the hell that is, then it’s a pretty famous one,” Skyler shot back, trying to withhold a smile.
“I was merely suggesting that — “
“Oh, boys, we are now at ten seconds and holding,” Anchor interrupted. “Anytime you’re ready. I don’t want to be rude, but the entire world is waiting while our two greatest explorers bicker over English grammar.”
“Yeah, good. Well, let’s go then,” Skyler said.
“I do not mean to be disagreeable, but we were hardly bickering,” Acharya added.
“I do not mean to be disagreeable? Who the hell talks like that?” Skyler said, getting in the last word.
“I’m going to miss both of you. Godspeed, Hispaniola. We have ten seconds and counting.”
Skyler placed his right hand on the flight stick as the countdown ticked off the final seconds. The craft was programmed for automatic orbital injection, but Skyler would have none of that. With full authorization to take manual control at any time, he planned to get a feel for his craft as soon as possible.
Anchor announced the anticlimactic launch. The Hispaniola lifted slowly from the ground, rising more like a hot air balloon than an explosive rocket-propelled vehicle that thrilled and excited spectators.
“It was an old, weathered fortuneteller,” Skyler said to his CAPCOM.
“Repeat again,” Anchor said.
“I was just a kid. I snuck off to the circus with some friends. An old fortuneteller grabbed me as we were running past. She offered to tell my fortune at no charge. I was scared at first, but my friends egged me on.”
“Okay, sir, is there a problem?” Anchor asked, concerned.
“No problem. Everything is A-OK. Do you remember when we first met? I told you the meaning of your name. The scary wrinkled old woman turned out to be a kind, good-hearted grandma type. She told me that someday I would meet and fall in love with a girl whose name meant ‘loved.’ I begged her for the name until she told me: Anchoret. So, you see, my love, I’ve known you long before we ever met.”
“Sir, this is open communication. The whole world is listening.”
“I want the world to know that I’m in love with you and that I will return from the stars to marry you.”
There was a long pause before she responded, “Your message has been received and understood — and accepted,” Anchor said with a choke in her voice. “Skyler, I love you, and I will love you for all time and all eternity.”
“Roger that,” Skyler said.
Skyler now flew the Hispaniola manually. As they pierced the Earth’s atmosphere, their attention was transfixed on the sight of Earth rotating slowly below. “So, my friend, you’ve achieved your dream. Do you have anything profound to say?” Skyler asked Acharya.
“I believe it was Xenocrates who said, ‘I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.’”
“Nice try,” Skyler insisted, “let’s have it.”
“Well, I believed we were predestined for this journey; then, yesterday, I caught myself looking both ways before crossing the street.”
“Good point,” Skyler chuckled.
“I was once convinced that traveling to other stars was something that would be gifted to us by an advanced civilization. To be more accurate, I was certain of this because the odds of us succeeding on our own seemed impossible.”
“What are your beliefs now?” Skyler asked as he slowed their assent and played with the controls.
“That is simple,” Acharya said. “If not now, then when? If not us, then who?”
“Could not have said it better, my sel — “ Skyler stopped talking as their ship shuddered and warning lights flickered to life. “What the hell was that?”
“We have detected a laser beam fired directly at you from China! The beam is not visible from space. According to calculations, they must have partially overshot,” Anchor was screaming.
“Line of sight!” Acharya said, turning to Skyler.
“Gotcha. We’re out of here,” Skyler responded without hesitation. He spun the Hispaniola around and dove back to Earth at an eastward angle. In a traditional craft, the massive g-force would have crushed the two pilots, but their Babylonian-built Hispaniola was compensating.
To the observers on Earth, the slow and friendly craft that rose calmly toward orbit had become a spitfire demon. She was nose-diving straight for Earth and traveling at over 160,000 miles per hour, far faster than any human-made object ever flew this close to the Earth before.
Bewildered news networks immediately reported the catastrophic destruction of man’s first starship. Minutes later, the breaking news changed to a heroic maneuver intended to survive a dastardly militant attack.
Unable to fire their destructive laser beams around the curvature of the Earth, the Chinese were presently reporting to their superiors a devastating failure, not the well-planned destruction they expected. The Chinese designated the Kauai project a direct threat from a nationless terrorist organization. They prepared to fire again once the spacecraft orbited back into view.
But the Hispaniola flashed across the continental United States at an impossible atmospheric velocity, leaving no doubt about the craft’s awesome technology. Earth’s inhabitants gained a new viral story, a new mythical legend about their two, now famous, heroes. As Skyler crossed the eastern shore, he turned the craft upward again. The Hispaniola passed through the atmosphere and back into space so fast that the frantic news organizations could not report the new trajectory until much later. Using the Earth itself as a shield, the two heroes were well on their way into deep space, far out of range, before the Earth would rotate the Chinese laser complex back into position.
“I must admit that was perhaps the best exhibition of flying the Earth has ever seen. You are magnificently quick on your feet,” Acharya said while trying to gain his breath.
“Whoa, this baby can fly,” said Skyler.
Anchor cut in. “James has a big smile on his face, boys. You really put on a show. The whole world is a buzz. It was amazing!”
“Let’s hope the worst is behind us. Thanks for the quick thinking down there. We had no idea what was happening,” Skyler answered.
“You can thank James’ friend Mike for that one. He’s been following the activities of those creeps for years.”
“A most fortunate addition to our team,” Acharya said.
“Oh, how I wish I could be with you. What an adventure. Uh, hold, please — James is insisting that I ask if there was any damage.”
“No damage here,” Skyler said. “All systems have auto-reset. The Hispaniola is star bound again. Tell James thanks for the Marty Hogan tip; he’ll understand.”
The first Starship streaked past Saturn on its journey into the great unknown.