“Wolf 359”

Adrian Johnson

All rights reserved by the author

 

            Malcolm Allan lived a diverse and jaded childhood.  His parents were both dead before he turned ten.  His journey through life would ultimately lead to answers to questions that haunted his past.  Malcolm followed in his father’s footsteps; would he suffer the same fate?

 

***

            Malcolm’s life flashed before his eyes, head snapping back into the cockpit chair, face contorting as if a comet struck his forehead.  A cascade of memories cluttered his mind.  His life repeated from his earliest memories.  His father’s silhouette, framed by an overwhelming metallic mass burned in his conscious, as vivid as it had ever appeared in his dreams…

            Looking up into his father’s eyes he could smell the disinfectant that was sprayed on the space suits before boarding and the gasses and oil powering the surrounding machines, he could hear the mechanizations of the launch grind and turn.  He knew that he would never see him or get the chance to know his father as a man.  Malcolm’s mother stood behind him as his father and one other walked away and into the ship.  As the door closed, he felt a chill run through his mother’s body, so violent that it shook him.  Her tears were streaming down her cheeks and down onto his shoulders as she knelt to embrace him.  He knew that it was more for her security than his own.  She would never recover from his departure.  Four months into the journey communications were severed.  Neither Declan nor his navigator were heard from again.  The devastation took its toll on her physically and mentally. As the months passed her health slowly deteriorated, ten months after the ship left the moon she suffered a severe brain hemorrhage in the middle of the night.  She never saw her husband or son again. 

Malcolm Allan was a boy of nine when he last saw his father.  Declan Allan was considered a pioneer of space travel, much the same as Neil Armstrong when he traveled to the moon.  Declan helped expand human boundaries into the further reaches of the universe.  He was the leading candidate to pilot the first manned intergalactic solar sail mission.  He was to travel into the Wolf 359 system and land on what was supposed to be an “earthlike” planet. 

            The grim reality was that Malcolm had lost both his parents within less than a year of each other.  He held little hope of seeing his father again and his mother had been laid to rest shortly after she had died.  Malcolm became hardened by his experiences during that year.  Alone for the first time in his life Malcolm left the care that was provided by NASA, the world had become a bitter place to live.

            Eyes wide and dilated face slackened and blank; Malcolm still fixed in his flight chair, the memories continued to rush through his consciousness.  His expression grew cold and his fingers dug deeper into the arm rests.  The horror was only a fleeting moment…

            Looking down at the bloodied face of the man who had tried to rob and kill him Malcolm knew that his assailant would not live.  He was horrified at the mercilessness with which he had just thrashed the life out of his attacker.  The glazed over eyes, which seemed to be starring innocently into Malcolm’s face, filled with blood and spilled down his checks.  The last motions of life convulsed through his body.  Stricken and stiffened with death the body lay back to the ground one hand clasping the side of his head, where Malcolm had focused the blows from the iron pipe he wrenched from the man’s hand before he landed a blow of his own.

At the age of fifteen Malcolm was a killer.

 

***

The next ten years of his life sped past in quick glimpses and flickers.  Emotions were as real as first experienced. 

His adolescent years were relatively uneventful.  Malcolm enrolled himself in the fledgling International Solar Sail Exploration Association, (ISSEA).  The ISSEA was founded in 2147 C.E. by Morgan Sagan, direct descendant of the famous Carl Sagan from the late 20th century.  Following his great grandfather’s footsteps Morgan Sagan continued the family legacy of space travel.  After the Cosmos 1 mission broke the boundaries of interstellar space travel in 2004 there was a boom of technological developments. 

Driven by the desire to follow in his fathers footsteps and uncover what fate he suffered, Malcolm dedicated his life to develop his understanding of solar sailing.  He graduated in the middle of his class and went relatively unnoticed.  He often preferred to remain overlooked, watching and learning.  Allowing teachers to see the occasional flashes of his brilliance usually gave him the benefit of the doubt on assignments he half-assed. 

 

***

Malcolm’s life continued to flash by.  Sweating profusely now he recognized his greatest achievement, the purchase of his ship Silver Way. 

The ship itself was funded with Malcolm’s own money, what was left from his parents when they died.  The money amounted roughly half a million dollars including interest from the past 20 years.  Malcolm was one of the few civilians in the world to own a personal solar ship (commonly referred to as “Runners”).  The inflated sense of pride that had grown inside Malcolm was a welcome aberration from the fear and loss which seemed to haunt the rest of his life.  The feeling of clearing a major hurdle was one of the few instances in Malcolm’s life that had caused joy instead of pain.  He could see the new freshly buffed metallic finish.  The door to the craft beckoned to be opened.  He remembered feeling like a child who had received his first bicycle.  On the outside, though, Malcolm kept composure like he always had and always would.

The next obstacle in his way was to hire a crew.  Silver Way was a relatively small ship, unlike most other runners that were built for cargo and trade it was built for exploration and efficiency.  Silver Way was roughly 7000 kg and contained only enough room for a crew, supplies, and equipment.  He needed to hire two more, a navigator and a tech (jack of all trades, doctor, cook…etc.)  Trust was something that was not easily gained from Captain Allan; he had met very few individuals whom he could trust.  As a navigator, Malcolm eventually decided to contact Vitaly Vokoun.  He had meet Vitaly while in training.  They formed a mutual respect for one another after being paired together in the simulators.  The skills that both men possessed formed the mutual grounds for their respect.  Both were solitary men so they worked well together, with little friction.  Malcolm had his navigator.  Finding a tech was not so easy.  Malcolm stumbled across him, much by accident.  In a bar after a long day of searching through the civilian archives for possible candidates, frustrated at the lack of success Malcolm was quick to anger.  The unsuspecting Shay Wright knocked into Malcolm as he nursed a drink.  Malcolm lashed out with a quick right spinning in his chair.  He caught nothing but air.  Wright managed to duck out of the way.  Malcolm turned flushed with rage to see the cool headed Wright with deliberate opposition.  Quickly recognizing Wright’s ability for coherent thought under pressure, Malcolm’s anger subsided.  He proposed the job offer to Wright.  Coincidence may be the best way to describe how Wright had ended up part of Malcolm’s crew.

 

***

A loud snap sounded from outside the ship.  Silver Way shuddered and creaked.  On the HUD the ships damage gauge started to flash red.  Out of the twelve spokes that held the sails together only one was broke.  It was the 12 spoke that had taken the damage.  The space debris grated across the uppermost sail support dislodging it from its mooring in the ship.  The spoke was still suspended between two of the sails and was creating unnecessary stress.   

Malcolm’s eyes refocused and his hands eased off the arms of his chair.  His thick 6’2’’ frame relaxed enough to allow movement.  He wiped the sweat from his face and brow with the forearm of his shirt.  He drew ragged heavy breaths of the filtered oxygen. The visions of his past had left Malcolm Allan in a daze, what seemed a life time had only taken a few seconds.  He was left wondering how he was still alive.  Before he flashed backed he remembered fearing for his life and seeing a meteor heading directly at the ship.  Soon he gained his composure and checked to see if Wright and Vitaly were all right.  Vitaly was sturdily built and a few inches taller than Malcolm.  He had been in the seat adjacent from Malcolm’s and had not sustained any injuries.  Wright was a smaller man than both Vitaly and Malcolm.  He was not as lucky.  He had been in the hold in the back of the ship searching for supplies when the ship shuddered.  He lost his footing and stumbled, hitting his head on the metal siding.  He blacked out for a short period of time.  Vitaly retrieved him and set him in his chair.  After they had recovered from the initial shock and treated Wright, all were functional.  Wright diagnosed himself as mildly concussed with no lasting side effects. Once they had gathered themselves they reoriented the ship. 

Malcolm reflected on how close he had just come from being killed. Almost more upsetting than dying was almost being denied his goal, following his father.  Three months had passed since launching from the moon.  The journey had been uneventful up until the recent scare.  Traveling to the Wolf 359 system would take roughly 7.7 light years.  It would be naïve of him to underestimate the harsh conditions of space.  There was nothing he could have done to avoid the stray space debris.  For now he would consider he and his crew fortunate to have survived this long.

The next order of business was to examine the ship and record the damage that was done.  They checked the stability of the sail supports.  One of the extensions had snapped due to a collision with the debris.  Any closer to the ship and there would have been sail damage.  Amazingly enough, the sails remained intact.  Internally the ship was unharmed.  There was a slight mess where Wright had fallen.  The shudder that ran through the ship had altered some of the meters on the HUD, but Vitaly recalibrated them with little difficulty. 

All external work that needed to be done was left up to Malcolm.  They retracted all of the sail extensions and he replaced the broken extension with their only extra and found a few tears in the sail along the border.  It was of small consequence and was easily repaired.  Once the ship was back in travel worthy condition Vitaly took some measurements and configured their approximate location.  They were still more than seven light years, at constant acceleration, away from their destination.  Figuring in the time they would spend searching for the truth behind Declan’s disappearance, they estimated that the mission could take anywhere from the 7.7 to get there and possibly in addition of another three light years.  Aside from the distance it would take for them to arrive in the Wolf 359 system all other estimations were based purely on speculation. 

 

***

The predicted 7.7 years grew into a full eight.  There were no major setbacks after the nearly fatal collision.  The occasional system malfunction but nothing mission threatening. 

***

Silver Way reached the Wolf 359 system during the eighth light year.  Malcolm found himself excited for one of the few times in his life.  He was not content to have made it this far, the longest and most tedious part of the mission was over but now it was time to get down to work.  Earlier in the 20th century three planets were discovered in this system.  Their destination was the fourth and most recently discovered planet “Titan”.  Malcolm’s plan was to counter-orbit Titan.  With Titan orbiting in a clockwise rotation Malcolm could arrive at the planet sooner if he set a counter-clockwise orbit.  They set a course to mirror the planet’s orbit and waited.  They encountered a problem with this plan.  The three other planets in orbit were very large and often blocked out the solar photons that were needed to propel the craft.  Frequently Malcolm found his sails empty and was forced to glide.  Without substantial drag on the ship Silver Way could glide but could not steer.  The ship possessed onboard flash gas, which offered a slight chemical burst to alter direction. 

It was not long before Titan swung into view from behind the star.  It was a breath-taking spectacle.  The planet was rich with the blue of what could only be an ocean.  There was what appeared to be an archipelago, and the only visible land masses.  Judging by the broken land masses it was easy to determine that this planet was far more mature than Earth. 

            The ship Malcolm’s father had used had employed an onboard computer which contained a S.O.S. beacon that supposedly emitted low frequency pulses.  At the time of the original mission only NASA used such beacons.  Malcolm had uncovered blueprints for the low frequency pulsar and had one installed in Silver Way. 

            Wright was in charge of running the pulsar search while Malcolm and Vitaly set an orbit around Titan.  Using the same tactic he used to find the planet he again set a counter-orbit around Titan to speed up the search.  With the course set, both Vitaly and Malcolm started a visual search of all of the possible landing areas.  Malcolm considered the possibilities of a failed landing and realized that they would be fortunate if Declan had landed on any of the islands and not in the massive ocean.  The chance was slim but there was also the possibility that he had made it this far unmolested and landed with out trouble. 

            Once Silver Way had completed orbit around Titan they were left with negative results.  There was no signal picked up. Either Declan had not made it this far or there was some other explanation they had not yet considered. 

            Malcolm was left to weigh odds and possibilities.

 

***

Idling in orbit around Titan Malcolm found himself torn by his next decision.  Either could be wrong and end his mission.  The decision weighed heavily on his shoulders and caused him to become comatose.  A lack of sleep and malnourishment caused Malcolm to become sick and his health started to fail him.  Vitaly and Wright tried as they might to get him to eat and sleep but there was only so much they could do. 

With Malcolm’s physical strength and mental health dwindling Vitaly and Wright decided it was time take matters in to their own hands.  The decision was made to search what they could of the system on their way back to the moon.  Vitaly took over as captain and set the course for the long journey home.  Silver Way had been in orbit around Titan for almost two months.  They figured that they were approximately three quarters through its orbit around Wolf 359.

Malcolm lay stricken in his bed numb to the world around him.  His senses had dulled and his body had begun to atrophy.  He had heard the voices of his crew but the sounded like muffled echoes.  His eyes were dry and bloodshot from starring at the ceiling in his quarters.  The cold metal ceiling began to slowly constrict down upon him.  The ceiling appeared to be magnified and his vision became distorted.  He could hear nothing but the static quietness of space.  The static grew louder and louder and caused his eyes to shut tightly as if to hold back his eyes from fleeing the pain of being inside his head.  Pulse

The sound echoed in his head as if a gong had been struck.  His eyes snapped open and his body bolted up with out any conscious effort.  He knew that sound…It had been what he had hoped to find on his journey through space.  It was the low frequency pulsar from his father’s ship. 

His senses sharpened and an energy rushed through his body.  Malcolm began to think straight again and he remembered how he had ended up incapacitated.  The decision had been answered for him.  He swung his legs of the side of the bed and pushed himself upright with the help of his bed side table.  From there he ran his hands along the cool metal walls for support.  He slowly worked his way away from his room and towards the cockpit to see what Vitaly and Wright knew of the signal.

The sound of the pulsar grew louder and clearer as he approached the cockpit.  He found Vitaly standing over Wright who was seated at the pulsar beacon.  Both men turned with surprise to see Malcolm awake and seemingly conscious.  The eye contact that was made the crew and Malcolm was filled with relief and amazement.  Malcolm’s eyes emanated sincerity to his two crew and only friends.  He would never admit that he was grateful for the support and care that they had given him while he had fallen into illness, but he would never have to.  Something deeper than words had been shared at that moment. 

With Captain Malcolm Allan back in command of his ship they set a course for where his father’s ship had been in orbit on the far reaches of the solar system.  It had only been a matter of time before the two were in range.

 

***

The mission had now surpassed its ninth year.  Malcolm had been waiting all of his life for what was to come next in his life; he was finally going to get answers. 

 

END PART 1

 

© Copyright 2004 by the author

All rights reserved