“Voyage of the H.E.A.R.T”

Cynthia C. Saul

All rights reserved by the author

 

 

In the background the radio was blaring live interviews from the launch site, as Gavin sat at his breakfast room table for the last time sipping his coffee- decaf with two sugars. It was the same coffee he had had every morning for the last twenty-two years, but today there was any added taste of satisfaction and accomplishment in it.  Looking out the window at the sunrise, Gavin realized just how long it had been since he had last seen the sky like this.  Thinking back, it most likely was when the children had been babies, and he had gotten up to give them their early morning feedings. They were now grown up with kids of their own, and as he sat there in the cold December morning a tear rolled down his cheek. His wife, who had died in a car accident the year before, would have been so proud of him; his life’s work finally finished, and now he had the opportunity to travel with it into space, the first scientist in his field to do so.  Gavin stood up, walked over to the sink, placed his mug in it and walked out of the front door.

Pulling up to the launch site, Gavin saw his crew standing and smiling in front of a hundred flashing bulbs and yelling reporters.  He had selected them personally for their expertise in many fields.  As he parked the car, he could see some of the reporters turn in his direction, ready to sprint towards him the moment he opened the door of his car.  So, he sat there for a couple seconds collecting his thoughts before he stepped out into the blustery morning.

 “DR. NOBLE, DR. NOBLE, what do you think the significance of this flight will be to the future of the space program?” a reporter, he recognized to be from the Chicago Sun Times, asked.  Thinking back to it, all he could remember of his response was something about the Earth’s resources and fuel, for his eyes had drifted toward the ship standing tall and ready to go. From the large collector funnel to the exhaust pipe, every inch he had carefully tested and inspected himself to make sure it worked properly.  The past twenty odd years had been solely invested in the completion of this project and he was not about to allow, thousands of nights of working late, eating take out, and missing his kids games and plays be in vain. So there it was now, all his hard work glowing in the morning sun. 

The next couple hours were spent making last preparations for the flight and saying goodbye to family. Gavin’s three sons and his daughter had flown in from all over the country to send him off. Not knowing if they would ever see their father again, they tried to keep the moment as happy and light as possible hoping that it would last a lifetime.  For the second time this morning he got tears in his eyes as he turned to walk away from his family and into the ramjet, named the H.E.A.R.T (Hydrogen Energy Acceleration Ramjet Test#1).  Acknowledging his crew members, with a slight nod, he sat down and buckled up. He was aware of the great sacrifices each of them was making in order for the advancement of the space program. Many of them had husbands, wives, and children they were leaving in order to serve their country.  The voice of the launch commander crackled over the loud speaker and then in a loud clear voice announced”…10...9...8...7...6 (Gavin’s heart began to beat faster and faster) .5...4...3...2...1...BLAST OFF! The sky was whipping past them, and Gavin could feel the force pushing him back into his chair, and then all of a sudden nothing. Darkness was all around them, and the earth in all its majesty floated behind them so small and intriguing.   Gavin laughed quietly to himself, for looking down on the planet below brought back memories of the time about fifteen years ago when he had taken his eldest son skiing- a very rare break from his work.  Riding on the chairlift up the mountain, his son had tapped him on the shoulder and said in a voice filled with gratitude and wonder, “Dad, you know what is truly amazing?” Gavin shook his head. “That down there in that condo, which looks so small to us up here, there could be hundreds of people- just think about that- we are so small and insignificant, yet God loves us all individually.”  Back then Gavin had merely whispered under his breath “Purely amazing.”   Now if only he could share this moment with his son, for looking back down upon the earth, just the size of a bouncy ball, he was filled with the same sense of complete awe that he had seen in his son’s eyes that December day.

            Turning away from the small porthole window, he knew it was time to return focus to the mission and put the past behind him.  For he would most likely never see his family again, and he could not live out the rest of this mission regretting the past twenty years.  “Well, here goes nothin’.” Gavin said, his stomach in knots, while he switched the red fuel-mixing lever up into the “on” position. It had been discovered a few years back that the ramjet would need to be traveling at least 6% the speed of light in order to work. So he had spent the better part of the last year perfecting this task. The ramjet started to speed up. 

“1% light speed sir.” Said the astronaut to his left, “2%...3%…. 2.8% we seem to be slowing down, what do you want to do?”

“Pull in the wings and make the collection funnel slightly narrower.” Gavin responded hoping that drag would not be the downfall of the mission. For it had been made quite apparent to all the importance of this mission, but more importantly it had been engrained in their minds that if they failed the repercussions would be even greater. Once the ramjet got up to a certain speed it was no longer an issue, however it always seemed to present a problem in the beginning.

“We are coming back up, 3.4%…4%…5…6%-laser on”

“Magnetic field set on 3000 pulses per second.” The technician sitting right behind Gavin informed the crew.  Suddenly before them, like nothing any of them had ever seen before sprung the most magnificent rainbow made up of millions of visible individual particles. It seemed as though the ramjet was stuck in the middle of an enormous prism, where they served as the place of refraction.  Next without warning the ship accelerated at an exponential rate greater than Gavin could have ever calculated.

“20%, 25%…. 58% light speed…. this is unbelievable!”

“The fuel is mixing at an unreal speed sir, we are producing both enough helium and hydrogen the tanks are completely full-all the timmeeeee.” The last word trailed off for all at once a bright light shone through the passenger’s bay windows and stopped the ramjet dead. The force sent the crew flying towards the back wall, until they fell unconscious to the floor.

Opening his eyes, Gavin slowly sat up and looked around. There was blood dripping from his nose and about a three-inch gash on his left arm.  Gradually, he got to his knees and reached around the cabin to make sure everyone else was still alive-they were, but still unconscious. He ripped his sleeve and then tied it around his arm to stop the bleeding. Not the best of bandages, but it would serve its purposes.  Turning on his flashlight, Gavin kicked open the door to the ramjet and stepped from the ship onto the soft earth.  His curiosity caused him to stoop down and discover what he was actually walking on. To his surprise, it turned out to be mud.  But that can’t be Gavin thought, never before had anything with the exact chemical make-up close to mud had ever been found, on a planet besides earth.

“Gavin? Where are we?” his technician asked, stepping down from the ramjet very dazed.

“Honestly, I have no clue.” Gavin responded. “I think we are going to have to have to wait until morning, if wherever we are even has one.” Looking up at the sky with a urgent look in his eyes, he continued, “let’s go see about the others.”

Hours later, Gavin and his crew were sitting inside the H.E.A.R.T. eating breakfast- some freezed dried food that Gavin had never been able to get used to-when rays, of what appeared to be sunlight, shone through the window filling the whole cabin with a warm light. All at the exact same time the crew looked at each other, and smiles broke across their faces. They had been working all night on the ship trying to get it running again, and the sunlight streaming through the window rejuvenated their spirits. There had seemed to be a problem in the fuel mixing system. After the hydrogen reaction chamber the hydrogen was not mixing with the Deuterium and Triterium to create the correct balance in the fuel.  If Gavin had only been able to come up with a way to create pure hydrogen fuel it would not have been a problem. Thankfully, however right before dawn they had finally fixed the system.  “Well, let’s not just sit here, find out where we are!” Gavin exclaimed.

But as they stepped from the ship, they were surprised to see that not only did the mud from the night before resemble Earth, but the whole planet did.  Had they merely landed at home was a question that raced through many of their minds. The hum of early morning traffic filled their ears, sparrows flew through the air, and about a hundred feet from where they stood, lay a little house, that what seemed to be the morning before, an anxious scientist had stepped out of ready for the future. 

Running up to the house Gavin heard laughter echoing from inside, so he pressed his nose against the window. To his utter surprise, there his family sat around the Christmas tree opening presents and drinking their morning coffee, and then all of a sudden a man who looked exactly like him walked in carry a try of muffins followed by a woman glowing with love. Gavin turned around and slide down the side of the in disbelief.  They were not home, it was merely a glimpse of what could have been had he been the father he intended to be when his children first were born. But just as is eyes were once again filling with tears, he remembered that last glimpse he had taken of Earth before the ramjet took off into light speed and he smiled.

For although the path he had chosen was full of regret, he would never change it for the world. For God had firmly placed his feet upon it, and therefore it was the one he had to follow. He loved his children and his wife, and he would not exchange anything for that. He had not been the perfect dad, but he remembered the words from an old book that sat on his wife’s bedside table; he had always made fun of her for keeping it there. But on the inside cover it read: ‘ “There's no vocabulary for love within a family, love that's lived in but not looked at, love within the light of which all else is seen, the love within which all other love finds speech. This love is silent.”-T.S. Eliot.’ So Gavin turned around, looked at his crew, and with tears in his eyes he said, “Let’s try to go home, we may not make it, but we might and that little chance is enough for me.”

© 2003 by the author

All rights reserved