During the first three hundred years of human spaceflight no manned spacecraft left the solar system. Humanity had too many environmental, political, social and economic crises to deal with. Rising temperatures, rising sea levels, overpopulation and finally viral and nuclear terrorism.
At the end of the 21st century an alliance of first world nations decided that they’d had it with the rest of the world. They were going to protect what they had; if others disagreed, too bad. The North American Federation (U.S.A. and Canada), Anzus (Australia and New Zealand), the Western Pacific Alliance (Japan, The Philippines, China and Viet Nam), the Nordic/European Community. These along with South Africa, the Central American Confederation and the South American Brotherhood left the moribund UN and formed a united civil/military command dedicated to bringing peace to a world drowning in its own excesses.
Terrorist states were destroyed using century old warheads from the NAF nuclear arsenal. Nothing was left to chance; two hundred fifty million people were killed in the initial barrage (slightly more than double the number killed by terrorists during the previous half century). The lesson was not learned. Six months later another one hundred fifty million people were killed in the second barrage. Western Asia, and portions of central and northern Africa were turned into sheets of glass.
Technological superiority combined with a will to see things through to a conclusion convinced an exhausted world that it was time to stop.
Populations in the occupied territories were disarmed; technology made it impossible to conceal weapons and explosives from the occupation troops. Civilian populations in other nations were relieved of all military style weapons.
During the next two centuries, runaway global warming was halted. Atmosphorming technology was developed to return Earth’s atmosphere to pre-industrial conditions. New population controls were put in place and enforced, even the wealthy, the nobility and politically connected were forced to toe the line. By the beginning of the 24th century global population was again below six billion people.
In 2319 Rivka Helen Nguyen met Howard Jon Ridgebeck at Northern Missouri Tech. She was a theoretical physicist interested in gravity. He was a pioneering mathematician in inter-dimensional field theory. Together they developed a new mathematics which allowed quantum physics and Einsteinian physics to be combined into a long sought unified field theory.
Shortly after being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics (2337) they published their Dark Theory. Dark Theory “proved” the existence of other dimensional spaces within our universe. Thirty years later Jennifer and René Alvarado y Marquez mathematically demonstrated how to gain entry to these other dimensional spaces.
In 2393, working with McKensie-Boeing Astro-Engineering, Jennifer and René developed the first “spatial transition engine.” Along with three dedicated fusion plants it was installed in a small hollowed out nickel-iron asteroid, which had been placed in a geo-sync Martian orbit sixty years before.
It would remain in operation for fifteen seconds following activation. The engine was activated; the asteroid disappeared for fifteen seconds. It reappeared almost where it had been when it was activated. Taking into account the asteroid’s orbit, planetary and solar motion the asteroid had returned to the exact spot it had been in when activated. The existence of other spatial dimensions had been proven – now it remained to prove them practical.
Over the next one hundred fifty years technology was developed to reach a dimensional space which could be used for both transportation and communication that would be the equivalent to Faster-Than-Light in our dimensional space.
In 2570 Tyler Kiritopolis and Myra Ho Chin piloted the Zheng He to the outer limits of the Oort Cloud, some 55,000 AU from the Sun. The trip lasted some twenty-four hours. They had hit their target destination with an error of less than five percent.
After computing their course home to the north of the ecliptic, they again activated the Alvarado Drive and returned to the solar system with a less than two percent error.
By the time the next test flight was ready in 2571, the Bosch/Teledyne Interspatial Communicator was ready and installed. The Zheng He went half the distance to Alpha Centauri in forty-six hours and assorted minutes and seconds. The BTIC worked. Nigh on instantaneous communication halfway to our nearest stellar neighbor.
For better or worse humanity was now loose among the stars.
– – – – –
She found him again looking up into the sky. Again. How many times had she admonished him not to do so? Eights and eights and eights of times, she had lost count long ago. He was going blind and still he kept on.
“Arrcheron, please, do not look so at Light and Heat. It is damaging your sight, you are going blind,” said Alliata.
“Daughter, I know, and, yet, I must continue. There is something about Light and Heat that is not right and I must see it,” the old man replied for the eight of eights time.
“Father, you began claiming this more than a hand of years ago. You cannot explain what you see to others and your eyesight grows weaker each time you look. Perhaps you are wrong or, perhaps, as na’ Sanah says you only see it with your inner eye. In either case, staring at Light and Heat with your eyes open will not help; it will only make you blind.
“Please, father, do as she asks. Go into the caves and open your eye to Light and Heat. It cannot hurt and may hold the answer to the question you are asking. It may be an answer we all need to hear.”
Arrcheron had held this discussion with his daughter eights of times but this time her argument, even though word for word the same as the last time, seemed reasonable. “It is a journey of four hands of days to the Caves of sa’ Dura, daughter. Will you accompany me?”
“I and my two older sons will accompany you father. My husband and our younger children will remain here. na’ Sanah, a younger priestess and two novitiates will also accompany us.”
“Yes, na’ Sanah, she said that this time you would listen to me and that both of us must listen to you when you emerge from the cave. And, father, she both looked and sounded sad and worried when she told me this.”
Arrcheron counted eight eights of eight steps a hand of times on his journey into the depths of sa’ Dura. It was cold, damp and dark as the acolyte turned about with his lamp. He would return for Arrcheron in a hand of hours if not summoned earlier by the corded bell.
Arrcheron had never been in a place so dark. He could see neither his white robe nor the hand in front of his eyes; he knew it was there because he touched both his forehead and his nose to prove it. The acolyte’s footsteps died away and the only sounds were slowly dripping water somewhere far back in the cavern and his own breathing.
Well, I’m here, he thought, best get to it.
Seated as he was Arrcheron closed his eyes and imagined he was looking at Light and Heat from his garden bench. And as he did so his inner eye opened and he saw the star. It was not the healthy yellow-white color one usually saw while gazing at the sky. It was a sickly and pulsating greenish-yellow.
As he watched he imagined ages passing and, as they passed, people began to flee from Home. Light and Heat shrank and then grew infinitely larger, brighter and hotter. When the image in his mind cleared, he again saw Home. But a Home burned beyond recognition, a black cinder orbiting a star, dark and dead, giving light and heat no more.
Alone, shivering and, now, terrified, Arrcheron pulled the cord at his side that would summon the acolyte into the depths of sa’ Dura, but he could already see a flickering light in the cavern. “Master, it has been a hand of hours since I left you and was just about to enter when I heard you pull the belled cord just now. I see you have not touched the food or water I left with you. Would you like some before we begin our return to the surface?”
“No,” replied a shaken and still shaking Arrcheron, “I have seen not enough and yet I have seen too much.”
– – – – –
The Priestess was ancient, more than two eights of eight years had she seen. Her body was failing but her mind and will were still strong; she and those attending her could see that, but, still she lived. Why? What was the reason; was there a reason? She did not fear the long night coming; it could only offer surcease from the aches in her muscles and bones.
She had loved and been loved; indeed, she had several great-great-grandchildren. She had accomplished much; indeed, she had served as Priestess longer than most led adult lives. But still she went on.
Her nights were growing longer. Her dreams were beginning to last from one night into another, but she could not recall them after she awakened. And what was the purpose of a dream one could not recall?
The first storm of late autumn had blown through that afternoon and Safur ‘na Dahl had felt every clap of thunder in her bones. A glass of summer wine eased her into sleep, but it was a sleep unlike any she had experienced.
She began to float. Her sheets and blanket did not impede her and neither did the walls and ceiling of her bedroom. Soon she floated above the city and in a little while she saw the curve of the world. As she moved toward the sunrise she could see Light and Heat, but a Light and Heat unlike she’d ever seen before. It was a sickly and pulsating green and, while she watched in horrified fascination, her people fled from its sight.
She soon passed into space past the orbit of Moon and into the space between stars. She saw a small rocky world but it had no surface water. Later another world with air and water but it too seemed not right. The dream continued and Safur floated on and on and suddenly there they were. Four planets each circling its own small yellow star almost within reach of each other. The first would be New Home, a place of refuge and the others would be settled by the children of New Home. Never again would the Children of Light and Heat be in the danger they faced today.
Safur na’ Dahl woke from her dream exhausted and dehydrated. She had been asleep for a hand of eights days. Brushing aside the concerns of her attendants, who thought she would never again awake, Safur demanded to be taken outside. In her garden she pointed to the northeast toward a line of stars at the edge of a void. “That is where we must go,” she said, “That is where we shall find refuge from the storm of heat and light that will destroy our Home. That is where we fill find and build New Home.”
Exhausted, Safur collapsed and was carried in to her bed. She slept and her breathing slowed. At the end a smile creased her lips and she slipped into that long night satisfied with the refuge shown and a life well-lived.