Collision Course – Part 1

NOTE: This is are a short story that takes place in the “Millennium” universe. If you haven’t read “Millennium” this story won’t make much sense.  

Collision Course is a “The Martian” and “Ready Player One” meets “Gravity” science fiction short story, where Levi learns an important lesson while exploring his fascination for the stars. Hope you like some space-travel sci-fi stuff. Enjoy!

SYNOPSIS: On his way to the planet BLU-E32b, a malfunction throws Levi’s spacecraft off course and leaves him adrift in space. While trying to fix his ship, he starts to lose control of himself, and now Levi has to overcome his struggles and learn an important lesson if he is to survive.

Collision Course – Part 1

The clicking noise of locks unlocking was followed by the airy whoosh sound of doors been decompressed when the hibernation capsule opened. “Cycle one-one-nine-eight completed,” Levi said, sitting up and checking the monitor at his right side. He unplugged himself from the tubes connected to his spacesuit and stepped out of the hibernation capsule.

“Okay, girl. Let’s see how we are doing today,” Levi talked to the ship, entering the spacecraft’s cockpit and sitting at the pilot’s seat. He studied the graphics on the dashboard and went through the usual checklist. All systems were fully operational, and the spacecraft was still on course. “Okay. All looking good here,” he continued. “Ninety-nine point eight percent of our journey completed—estimated time for arrival; two months and four days to reach final destination. Two more cycles, and we will be landing,” Levi said, tapping the screen and pushing some buttons on the dashboard.

Levi stood up and left the cockpit. He crossed the hibernation room and entered the medical deck. “Okay. Let’s check how we are holding up so far,” Levi said, putting on the oxygen mask, connecting his suit to the machines, and hopping on the treadmill. He started walking and then running while controlling his vitals on the monitor.

A few minutes later, he finished his checkup and went to the ship’s observatory room. It was a small round, glassy room with a chair in the middle. Looking through the windows, he could see the vast and dark space. He sat down and entered some commands on the chair’s control panel. “All right! What do you have for me this time?” Levi asked. In front of him, the walls turned into a big screen showing data and images collected from outer space, since Levi’s last hibernation cycle. He moved his fingers over the control panel again, and the view of the whole Alpha Centauri star system was now on display spinning in its elliptical orbit. The image also showed his present location. He stood up and stepped closer to the screen. By moving his arms in the air, he zoomed in on the image, focusing on Alpha Centauri A and B, the two main stars of this system. He paused and contemplated their beauty for a moment. Then he moved his arms again. Pitching the air, he located Proxima b; a planet orbiting the red dwarf Proxima Centauri. He stopped again before moving his fingers one more time. “There she is. My little Blue,” Levi said.

BLU-E-2.0b was a planet Levi had found and named about one hundred and fifty years ago. He had not been able to confirm its existence before. The light from the two main stars of this triple star system tended to blend, obscuring the planet’s wobbly signal from Earth. But now, it was right there, and it was beautiful. Levi stood still in awe, staring at this small blue rock orbiting the star Alpha Centauri A. “After all these years, I can finally take a good look at you. No one believed I would get this far. Neither did I,” Levi said.

“You want to do what?” Marcel asked, not believing his ears.

“I want to build a spaceship. What is so crazy about it?” Levi asked.

“Build a spaceship by yourself and go search for a planet you’re not even sure it exists, in a star system four light-years away from here? Did I miss anything? Everything about it is crazy, Levi,” Marcel said.

“Well, not exactly by myself. I would have help. I have already figured out the math and mapped out the whole course. We just need to build the ship now,” Levi said.

“We? Who is ‘We’?” Marcel asked.

“Come on, man! I need you. It would be like old-times at NASA, remember?”

“Of course I remember, but…”

“We are explorers by nature,” Levi interrupted. “What is the point of having perfect bodies that never get sick or decay, and superbrains, that can figure out anything, if you can not use it to discover, learn, and explore creation? Wasn’t that one of the reasons why we were giving eternity in the first place?” He asked.

“All right, but space exploration now? Are you done exploring Earth yet? Why don’t you focus on your home first before you go out searching space for new worlds?”

“Space travel has always been my dream, and you know that. Now, we have the time, the skills, and the resources to do it safely and much more efficiently.”

“I know, but…”

“Since the Final War, we haven’t done anything on space exploration yet. We haven’t sent anything into space beside the Cleaners. We have cleaned all the space junk on Earth’s orbit and much of the trash in our solar system. That already was a fun project to do, right?”

“Yes. That was fun.”

“So, why not go just a little bit further this time? I’m not talking about exploring another galaxy. I’m talking about dropping by the neighbors. Alpha Centauri is just around the corner. And with my improvements to the infusion propellant’s design, we would travel at an average velocity of approximately 13,411 km/s. Which would mean…”

“It would mean that instead of four light-years, we could make it on one hundred or so years,” Marcel completed. “What about communication?” he asked.

“It would be instantaneous. I’m trying to figure out a way to use gravitational waves. It’s still theory, but I might be able to run some experiments soon,” Levi answered.

“Interesting,” Marcel said. What about your quantum-communicator? Couldn’t we just use that?”

“Not for that kind of distance,” Levi answered. “As you know, entangled particles are easily disturbed by their surroundings. The slightest interaction with the environment readily diminishes their entanglement. I found a way to strengthen the entanglement to overcome particle loss on Earth, but not in space and…”

“And with gravitational waves,” Marcel picked up, “you can run tests right here on Earth, and if it works, you would have no problems with interference, not here nor anywhere,” he said, finishing Levi’s sentence.

“Exactly!” Levi confirmed.

“We would be working in our free time?” Marcel asked.

“Right,” Levi confirmed. “Just like any other hobby. We are not getting old; we are not in a hurry. No time pressure, no deadlines. For the love of learning. What do you say? Are you in?”

“Cycle one-one-nine-nine completed,” Levi said, unplugging himself from the hibernation capsule tubes and stepping out of it. He went through the customary routine—the same one for every completed cycle. First, the spacecraft’s main systems full checkup, followed by his own whole body checkup and collected data analysis.

Levi was in the observatory room, studying the landing plans one more time. He must have gone through them a thousand times by now. He was in the middle of a landing simulation when the screen started glitching, the lights began to flicker, and then everything went dark for a moment before the lights turned red and the alarm started sounding: “Warning! Warning!

Levi jumped out of the chair and ran into the corridor. He arrived in the cockpit and saw the words ‘Power Failure‘ being flashed intermittently on the dashboard. “Power Failure? What happened, girl. Talk to me,” Levi spoke to the ship while moving his fingers through the dashboard. “Battery level, high?” Levi said while reading the data on the screen. “How come I don’t have power for main systems? Unless,” he paused before rebooting the system. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said when the system was back online. The new data on the screen read: ‘Battery Level: Critical.’ “I can’t believe that. Was I getting wrong readings all this time? How did that happen?” he asked himself, getting nervous. “Wait,” he said, taking a deep breath. “It doesn’t matter now. Right now, I have to focus on finding and fixing this problem before I run out of power, and everything goes dark here. ‘Lost in Space’ makes for a good movie title. ‘Adrift in Space,’ not so much.”

Levi touched the screen a couple of times again, and the full diagnosis of the power generator was displayed on the dashboard. “The space radiation receptors are working fine,” he said. “They are generating electricity as they are supposed to, but the batteries are not being charged,” Levi continued, running now a diagnosis of the batteries. “Oh, no. This is bad. The batteries are not only not being charged, but something is draining their power out, and…” Everything went dark before Levi finished the sentence. Every single light and system went off. The ship started drifting away from its course, the artificial gravity centrifugal engine stopped, and the oxygen supply was cut off. “Oh, great!” Levi exclaimed, starting to float in the cockpit cabin with zero gravity. He turned on the flashlights in his suit and looked for his helmet. “Now I’m doomed,” he groaned, putting the helmet on. “Ah, Levi! How on ‘space’ are you going to get out of this one, buddy?”

“You want your ship to be able to generate its own power,” Marcel said. “Back in the day, we used solar panels to generate electricity. But, in deep space, you will not always have a sun-like star around, right?” He continued, going downstairs into his lab in the basement.

“Right,” Levi replied, walking right behind Marcel.

“What other sources of energy do you find in abundance, anywhere you go in space?” Marcel asked.

“Hmm… I don’t know. Galactic cosmic rays?” Levi guessed.

“Exactly. Space radiation,” Marcel said, turning on the lights and walking to the table in the middle of the room.

“You want to use space radiation as a source of energy?” Levi asked, looking at the different materials lying on the table.

“Yes,” Marcel answered. “We can turn space radiation into electricity to power the spacecraft. We could build the whole ship using this material I’m working on,” Marcel said, handing Levi a small square-shaped tile. “It would not only convert radiation into electricity but also shield the ship’s interior from it.”

“Cool! How does it work?” Levi asked.

“The concept is simple. The material is made of carbon nanotubes packed with gold and surrounded by lithium hydride. Radioactive particles that slam into the gold push out a shower of high-energy electrons. They pass through the carbon nanotubes and pass into the lithium hydride from where they move into electrodes, allowing current to flow. You load the material with radiation and unload an electric current.”

“Sounds promising,” Levi said. “How are we going to test this thing? Getting our hands on radioactive material is not as simple as it used to be.”

“We don’t need any,” Marcel answered. “I’m perfecting it to be ultra-sensitive. So sensitive that it could work with sunlight radiation. Then, all we will need is some days of good weather.”

“Wow. That would be amazing,” Levi said.

“What about the engine? Are we going to be able to test it any time soon?” Marcel asked.

“Hey, boys. Dinner is ready,” June yelled from upstairs.

“Okay, love. We are coming,” Marcel answered. “Every time you guys visit, my wife cooks something special. You should come over more often.”

“I would love to if we didn’t have to cross half a planet to visit you. When are you guys moving back to New York, man?” Levi asked.

“We still have a lot of work to do here in Israel. Not sure if we will ever move back to New York, my friend.”

“Marcel?” June called him again.

“Coming,” Marcel replied.

“Okay, okay. No reason to panic. I can do this,” Levi said, entering engineering. He got to the electrical room and flashed the connectors and cables inside. “I built this thing. I can fix it,” he said, scanning the installations and trying to slow down his heart rate. He got to the batteries. “Batteries responding normally. What could be draining their power?” Levi asked himself. “All looks fine. I don’t understand. Wait!” He paused and looked outside through the window. “Only one thing could be causing the power drainage… Cosmic dust.”

Cosmic dust travels space at high speed. When it slams against the spacecraft, the dust vaporizes and ionizes the ship—and itself. That generates a cloud of ions and electrons, traveling at different speeds. That electrons’ movement creates a pulse of electromagnetic radiation, causing damage to the ship’s electrical systems. Levi’s ship had its own electromagnetic field protecting it from most of the cosmic dust and other space debris cruising into it. But after one hundred years traveling at an average velocity of 4.5% the speed of light, it seemed that some of this dust made its way through the shield. Now, Levi needed to get rid of the dust and look for other possible damage to the ship. Wearing his complete spacesuit, he got ready for his first spacewalk ever.”

Levi felt like a child visiting an amusement park for the first time. He jumped from one side of the ship to the other, attached only by a safety tether. “Whoo. This is fun. I should go for a walk more often,” Levi said.
He stared at the dark, crouched a little getting impulse, and dove into the expanse. He flew free for a while until the tether stopped him. He adjusted his visor to the infrared vision mode and suddenly space wasn’t so dark anymore. His visor detected the infrared waves and rendered them into beautiful images unveiling a breathtaking masterpiece of colors and forms that could not be seen before. He stood there in awe, contemplating the magnificent view of an alive and active universe. The infrared waves also revealed the location of stars Alpha Centauri A and B, pulsing far away on the horizon, leading the way to Levi’s final destination.

After taking a moment to marvel at creation, Levi turned off his infrared vision and went back to work. “I’m almost finished here. Just one last leak to fix, and we will be on our way,” he said, trying to grab his tools, but his hand failed to respond. “Aah. What is going on?” Levi said, trying to move his fingers. “My hand! Its paralyzed. I can’t move it,” he said, scared. “I have to get back inside. Ah! My leg”, he exclaimed. “I can’t move my leg. What is happening?” Levi said, panicking, pulling the tether, and moving as fast as he could to get back inside the ship. He struggled. His whole right side was paralyzed now. With one hand, he kept pulling the tether, moving closer to the hatch. A few meters of the hatch, his vision went blurry when he suddenly blacked out. He was then floating in space, still attached to the ship by the safety tether.

“Hey guys,” Anne said. “It is so nice having you here.”

“We were looking forward to visiting you for a long time now,” June said. “I have missed your talents, Anne. The food was amazing as always.”

“Oh yeah. It was delicious.” Marcel said.

“Oh. Thank you, guys. You are welcome,” Anne said.

“And it is great to be in New York again. Sometimes I miss the old times when we served together in Lazarus,” Marcel said.

“Yes. Me too,” Levi said. “Talking about old times,” he continued. “Have you seen the last data from our good and old telescope yet?”

“No. What has James seen this time?” Marcel asked.

“He had new images of BLU-E-2.0b,” Levi answered.

“What a stupid name for a planet, Levi,” Marcel said, teasing him.

“Marcel,” Anne said. “This is all Levi talks about now. And the only thing he does in his free time is to build his infamous great spaceship. Can you talk to him, please?” Anne requested.

“I’m right here,” Levi reminded Anne, sitting right beside her.

“It’s what? Ten years or so now, that you guys are working on this ship? Can’t you guys take a break of a few years or something.”

“She is right, Levi,” Marcel said. “We should just take a break. Maybe when we come back to it, we can even improve one or two things before the launch.

“But we are so close now,” Levi said, protesting. “Two more years, and we would have everything ready.”

“This is what you said two years ago,” Anne said. “I want to take a seven-year vacation of everything and go someplace new we haven’t been before.”

“You haven’t been to space before. How about that?” Levi asked.

“Ha ha,” Anne faked a laugh. “I’m being serious, Levi.

“We are going to Patagonia next year for two years. Why you guys don’t join us?” Marcel asked.

“Seriously, man?” Levi asked Marcel in disapproval.

“Oh yeah. That is a great idea,” Anne said. “I have never been to Patagonia before. Such a beautiful place. So much to learn, to explore. All things you love doing, babe,” she said, looking at Levi with a big grin.

“Jacob and Rachel are also planning to join us there for a few months. I heard they served there last century. They know everything about it,” June added.

“Sounds great, guys,” Levi said. “Okay, babe. Let us join them.”

“Really?” Anne asked with excitement in her voice.

“Yes. Really,” Levi confirmed. “They go next year, right? And we meet them there the following one. If I focus, I can finish the ship in one year instead of two. And we can go to Patagonia for as long as you like. What do you think?” Levi asked.

Anne responded with a look that Levi knew well.

“What?” Levi said with a grin.

“Who wants dessert?” Anne asked politely while standing up.

“I would love some,” Marcel replied.

“I will help you with that,” June said, standing up and joining Anne in the kitchen.

“What are you doing, man?” Marcel asked Levi when the two of them were alone at the table.

“I just want to finish it. That’s all. We are so close,” Levi answered.

“What is the rush. You have all the time in the world. Besides, it’s not good, my friend. Anne is getting tired of it.”

“I know, I know,” Levi said. “But, we are so close,” he repeated.

“No, we are not. I’m taking a break from our little project. And I advise you to do the same,” Marcel said.

(To be continued)

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