“Ramming Reality”

Daniel Nuñez

All rights reserved by the author

 

 

                “What are you doing?!?!  You’ll kill us all…..”   Nathanial awoke drenched in sweat.  Not the good night’s sleep that he had envisioned.   This was the third night in a row he had been having these nightmares, and it was beginning to get to him.   With the trip only a few days away he knew that he would have to compose himself if he wanted to make it through alive.   He rose out of bed, dressed himself, and put on a leather jacket with the name “Nathanial Wallace” inscribed on it.   Making sure not disturb his roommate he crept quietly out of his room and went to his car.   It was a relatively short drive to launch pad, and Nathanial took a moment to admire the ship before he went inside. 

            “God she’s beautiful”, Nathanial thought to himself as he looked out his car window at the massive ship that would serve as his home for the next couple of years.    He remembered when Will first came to him offering him the job nearly 8 years ago: it seemed like a lifetime ago.   At that point the ramjet was merely a prototype, and few believed that it would ever live up to its billing.   But since then the ramjet had surpassed not only the boundaries of the solar system but all other forms of interstellar travel.   But this was different: for the first time in human existence a piloted spacecraft would be leaving confines of the solar system and man would see with his own eyes what if anything was out there.  

Never had he imagined himself captaining a Ramjet, an archaic concept thought of nearly a hundred years before man could even create a self sustaining fusion reaction.   Going through the academy all the talk had been related to warp drive, but no matter how close they said they were to unlocking the secrets of exotic matter, it never developed.  And by the time he had joined NASA they had all but given up on it.   It was only then that he learned that they had shifted there focus to a new type of interstellar spacecraft, Bussard’s Ramjet.  It was clear why they wanted it to succeed.   The fact that it picked up fuel during the trip and required only the relatively small amount of fuel for the initial acceleration meant that it would save them enormous amounts of money and allow for a greater payload.      Also, it had been discovered that there were many pockets of high density hydrogen on the edges of the solar system and in deep space.   Up to that point it had become accepted that the density of hydrogen in space was fairly low, no more than a few atoms per cubic centimeter.   However in 2047, unmanned space probes collected data that showed areas outside the solar system containing several hundred times more hydrogen.   It had believed that the low density of hydrogen in space would mean that the magnetic scoop collecting the hydrogen would become too much of a strain on the ship power supply, but this new discovery meant that much of that energy could be diverted to more pressing issues.   It was this discovery that caused people to take a second look at the ramjet despite the fact that it had been hardly mentioned in any of NASA’s reports up to that point.   Adding in the simplicity of creating a fusion reaction, the ramjet was even more attractive.  A sudden breeze snapped him out of his trance and Nathanial quickly made his way to the control center which was still several miles away.  

The control center was very quiet, or perhaps it was the fact that Nathanial had become accustomed to the constant drone of reporters swarming around him nearly every day.   Whatever the reason, it was somewhat unnerving, and Nathanial decided to quickly find Dr. Testa who oversaw the engine’s creation.   While he was the Captain of the ship, he was not that well versed in the technical details of how the engine or even the magnetic scoop worked.   He knew how they all worked to an extent but if it came down to him having to repair part of the ship there would be serious problems.   He was assigned captain of the ship more because of his diplomatic candor.   Despite being in NASA several years, he possessed no qualities that should have allowed him to earn the title outside of his suave demeanor.   Nathanial knew all this but felt no remorse, he had done what he needed to do in order to get ahead.    That notwithstanding these recent nightmares had created a chink in his normally calm exterior.  

After some searching he found Dr. Testa in the main lounge.  “Hey Bill.” Nathanial murmured. “When was the last time that you looked at the engines because I was wondering if you have been noticing anything out of the ordinary?  Maybe some radiation leaks or something like that.” 

 With a midly surprised look on his face Dr. Testa responded, “Getting a little nervous are we?  Don’t worry I’ve been looking over the engines every day and they are as good as there going get.  Been having nightmares?  Don’t worry that’s common among crew about to go into space.”   Somewhat convinced Nathanial nodded and politely excused himself.  

“He’s right, there’s nothing to worry about, as long as everyone does their job this mission will go off without a hitch.”   “You all right there sir?”   The voice startled him as he thought that his roommate was asleep.   “I’m fine Jake, what are you doing up so late, you know we need all the sleep we can get.”   “With all due respect sir, its hard to sleep when your roommate snores like a bear and then gets up in the middle of the night and drives off”  Jake said only half joking.   “Duly noted, now go back to sleep.”   All those nightmares had made Nathanial even less receptive than usual to Jake’s dry humor.   

 

The next few days passed by like nothing.   Nathanial had no new nightmares, which was somewhat comforting, and by the night of the launch he was merely anxious to get into space and make history.   And that’s what it came down to with him.   This was going to be his defining moment.   Everyone wants to make something of there lives, but how many people actually end up having any sort of impact on the world as whole.   He would be remembered as the first human to ever travel into deep space and God willing the first person to make contact with a alien species.   The latter was more wishful thinking as many scientists had concluded that the chances of encountering an alien species were slim. While both Alpha Centauri A and B had been prime candidates for planets probes had shown that in fact there was nothing there. 

“Today” Nathanial thought to himself, “Today my name will be written down in the history books making the mission to the moon and mars look like trips to the supermarket.”     Nathanial and the rest of his crew had completed their final run through the night before and were merely waiting for the OK from control.   Nathanial had gone on several trips to space before but this time it felt different.   He was used to experiencing a sort of calm before the storm yet now he was extremely nervous.  “Completely understandable” he told himself, yet the more he tried to rationalize it the more it got to him.   Finally after what seemed like an eternity the signal came for him and his crew to board the ship.  

Entering the bridge it felt that the ship had gotten smaller overnight, the walls all seemed a little closer.   Regardless, the ship was still fairly spacious.   It would have to be if he and the rest of his crew were to remain sane for the next couple years.   The rest of his crew had already been in the ship for a few minutes and had begun running the final diagnostic checks.   Nathanial made sure that he would be the last person the media saw.   The rest of the crew all greeted him cordially but Nathanial could feel some of the resentment in the voice.   With the exception of Monica they all resented the amount of attention that he received.   Bartholomew, Thomas, Jake, Manolo, Kimberly, Monica, Maria, Katherine, and himself made up the crew.   He had know Monica since his days at the naval academy and had actually dated her for two years.    The rest of his crew he had met when he joined NASA.  

“Glad you could join us Captain, I don’t know how we would have completed the mission with out you”     Thomas said jokingly.  “Good to know that I’m appreciated around here” Nathanial responded.  He knew that Thomas was joking but he couldn’t help but wonder whether there was any truth in his sarcasm.

After the final checks had been cleared, Nathanial and his crew strapped themselves in and awaited the final countdown.  It finally came after what seemed like an eternity and Nathanial braced himself.   As it got down to 10, 9, 8, 7 Nathanial could feel the millions of eyes watching him through their monitors.   “1!” and with that the primary boosters sounded and the ship began to shake.   After a few seconds Nathanial began to see the ground outside moving and pillars of smoke began rising from the ship.  The first few minutes were hell as he knew they would be, you can train forever but it never gets easier, 4g’s is still 4g’s.   At last he began to see the atmosphere subsiding and the darkness waiting to embrace them.    The ship’s booster disengaged and Nathanial signaled for the main engines to be turned on.  The fusion engines, along with the discovery of pockets of hydrogen in space, were the main reasons that the ramjet had not been completely scrapped as an idea.   It wasn’t until the year 2018 that the first self-sustaining fusion reaction had been created.   Even at that point however the ramjet was not looked upon as a viable form of travel, but as wishful thinking.   NASA still wanted to go with a form of travel such as warp drive which would eliminate the problem of time dilation affects.   When it became apparent that warp drive would not be possible because of the inability to keep a stable warp field NASA decided to change its policy.   They said that the time dilation affects were a worthwhile risk for the betterment of mankind and the proliferation of the human species.  

The fusion engines turned on the ship sprang forward.   “Mr. Manolo are the engines all green?” “That they are captain” he replied somewhat shaky.   “Then by all means release the antimatter.”   With that the ship took off as the antimatter mixed with the hydrogen and annihilated, the very thought of which caused Nathanial to squeeze the arm rests on his chair.   It’s always somewhat unnerving when you realize that about 100 meters behind you there is a reaction taking place that has more energy than a hydrogen bomb.   Nathianial could hear the buzzing sound meaning that the artificial gravity was kicking in.   Six g’s isn’t the most pleasant experience for even a mere 3 days so the buzzing was a welcomed sound.  

The following 82 hours past relatively slow, everyone just wanted to initiate the ramjet.   So when the computer finally said they had reached 6% the speed of light Nathanial was caught a little of guard.   With a quick glance at the rest of the crew he quickly realized what was happening.   “Mr. Manolo, if you would be so kind as to turn off the antimatter injectors and initiate the magnetic fields.”   The lights inside the bridge flickered somewhat as the magnetic field was powered.  With a nod Manolo signaled that the fields were operational and collecting hydrogen.   And with that the first man piloted interstellar craft was operating.

 

That had been the “easy” part, now the true test of living with one another for nearly three years without killing one another began.   The nine of them had been working together for the past 4 years and had know each other for longer.  But it is one thing to work with a person and it is another to live for such a long period of time.   With not that much to do the crew spent most of there time in the mess hall.  The computer was in charge of recording the information and if they passed anything significant it would be marked and reviewed by the crew later.   This was the best that they could do consider they would be unable to stop quickly even if they passed an alien ship.   Nathanial spent most of his time talking with Monica. Their conversations ranged from questioning the direction of the United States when dealing with the Chinese to deep philosophical conversations about how crappy the food was.   Most of the time however Nathanial vented his frustrations to her, and for the most part she listened.   Monica had always cared for Nathanial even after they broke up.   She was frustrated sometimes by his quest for immortality but every time she had one of those 3 hour conversations with him she remembered what made him special.   But lately she had begun to worry about him.  His conversations had become overwhelmingly negative, even if it was not directed at anyone in particular it still wasn’t like him.  

One day after he had begun on one of his rants she quickly hushed him and said, “Nate, I know that a lot of stuff isn’t fair, but you have to admit you’ve had it better than most.   Now I love you and you know that, and that’s the reason that I can tell something is wrong with you.   If you can’t get yourself under control we’re going have to stop having these conversations.  I don’t think its right that you try to spread your negativity.”   Nathanial looked at her without saying a word.   How could she have misunderstood him so much? Negativity, under control, she was talking to him like he was on the verge of an episode.   “We fine, if she doesn’t want to talk to then to hell with her.”   He couldn’t believe he had just thought that, this was Monica the one who he had spent nearly half his life with and after such a little argument he was ready to say to hell with her.    Quickly he said, “I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t be laying all of this on you, I just feel that you’re the only one who I can talk to.  Everyone else is resentful of me.”   Her eyes becoming a little softer she responded, “That’s not true and you know it, if you would talk to them as much as you talk to me you’d see that they all respect you.”  Knowing that he would never convince her he decided to simply let her win and meekly nodded.    That night he awoke in a pool of sweat, he had had the same nightmare from before the launch.   He immediately wrote down everything that happened before he forgot it.

The next day Nathanial tried to talking to Monica about his dream.   He felt uncomfortable talking to her about it but there was no one else he could turn to.   She listened intently with a frown on her face.   After he finished she responded, “Captain I don’t know if you should be telling me about these dreams, don’t you remember what we discussed yesterday?”   “So you think it’s something that I should be worried about?”  He responded somewhat disheartened, that was not the response he was looking for.   “I’m sure its nothing, there’s no way that will happen, after all you have been under a lot of stress and I can only imagine what the death of your mother has meant to you.”   She was right, his mom’s death nearly two years ago was devastating but rather than use it as an excuse he used it as motivation to make sure his name was remembered.     It was only after her death that Nathanial had begun confiding in Monica more and more, for up to that time it had been his mom whom he had entrusted all his secrets to.   But he couldn’t believe that all his frustration that was suddenly bubbling to the surface was due to something that happened nearly two years ago.      Nathanial was not completely convinced but he didn’t want to press the issue so he simply said, “I suppose your right.”  

The following several months passed without incident, or at least no more than were to be expected.   His conversations with Monica continued, and it appeared, at least to her, that he had reverted back to his usual self.   A few fights broke out but nothing major.   The one between Maria and Kimberly was probably the most heated, with Maria actually having to receive medical attention.  The following day however their anger had subsided and they were once again cordial with one another.  “Women, who can understand them?”  Nathanial thought to himself after watching the two making jokes with one another only a couple days after the fight.   As he chuckled to himself he suddenly had the strangest feeling of déjà vu but thought nothing of it.  

After what seemed like a life time the captain awoke one day to the familiar beeping sound.   He made his way to the bridge and was greeted by Katherine.   She didn’t have to say a word, he knew what the beeping meant.   “Captain, we’re a quarter of a light year away from the target destination, do you wish me to turn off the engines?” Katherine said.  “Finally!” Nathanial thought to himself, “Do it Mr. Manolo.”   Nathanial remember back to when he had been deciding whether or not to take the position. One of his major concerns had been that the trip would probably take several years taking into account that they would have to begin coasting around half way through the trip.   He later learned that they would actually spend much less time coasting since the magnetic fields could still collect hydrogen atoms while the engine was off creating drag and slowing the ship down much faster.     “Um, Captain.”   “What is it?”  Nathanial shot back, angered that his train of thought had been interrupted. “The engines won’t turn off.”   “Are you sure?!!”  Nathanial said with his full attention now diverted to the control console.   “Try again, and call for the rest of the crew to come to the bridge.” 

As Monica entered the bridge she heard Nathanial yelling at Katherine and Manolo, “I don’t care what the computer says, try it again!”   “What’s wrong?” she asked, but part of her already knew the answer.  “The engines wont turn off.”  Manolo quickly said without really paying much attention to her.   She quickly glanced at Nathanial who was staring directly at her.  

After a few hours of trying to shut it down Nathanial ordered the crew to call it a day. Monica however, did not immediately leave the bridge, she stayed staring down at the floor for a few seconds.  When she finally looked up she said, “Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean anything.”   And with that she quickly went back to her quarters.  

The following few days were spent in vain.   The engines would not respond and the ship kept accelerating.   On the fifth day Bartholomew rushed onto the bridge, “I’ve got it, I know what’s wrong with the engines.   Apparently there’s been a radiation leakage occurring for the past several months, perhaps even since we took off.   The radiation had degraded the sensors that control the engines.”   Nathanial shot a quick glance at Monica who did not say a word.  

“All we have to do is repair the circuits, which will be easy now that we know where the problem is.” 

 “Well by God man, get on it, the longer we travel at this speed the further off course we’ll be.” Nathanial said with a renewed confidence in his voice.  Several hours later the ship decelerated sharply and the entire crew let off a huge sigh of relief.  Everyone except Nathanial.    The ship had been accelerating several more days than it should have meaning they would be significantly off course.    They would still be able to make it however assuming that nothing else went wrong.   As the massive magnetic field collected hydrogen the ship quickly slowed down because of the drag.   At the same time it filled up the fuel tanks, and the antimatter reserves were still high.  

Within a month the ship had decelerated to a point were the engines could be used to make the ship come to a decent cruising speed.   As Nathanial looked out the window he was somewhat disappointed in what he saw.   He had been told many times that it was 99% likely that all they would find once they got there was space debris, but Nathanial had hoped that he could prove them wrong.   But it was not to be, all that awaited him was the unending darkness broken only by the faint glow of Alpha Centauri two stars.  

After a few days of cruising they began to prepare for the trip back.   Food, O2, water, fuel, where all accounted for, not like it would have made much difference.   There was no Safeway or Gas station within a few light years and a deficiency in one would mean almost certain death.   Once oriented in the correct direction they would repeat the same step that the had done nearly two years ago.   Mix the fuel with antimatter to drive the ship up to 6% the speed of light and then initiate the magnetic field to collect hydrogen.   Everything would go off without a hitch.  

That night the Nathanial went to his room saying that he did not feel well.   The next day Monica came looking for him, but he wasn’t there.   No sooner had she begun looking when Katherine yelled over the intercom, “everyone get there ass over to the main docking bay now, the captains lost it!”   When she got there she saw the captain standing right in front of the airlock.   “Nathanial, what are you doing?”   Monica pleaded.   “You know damn well what I’m doing, what I have to, it’s all coming true, all of it.   That means there’s only one part of it left and I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen.   The radiation leak, the engine malfunction, the fight between Maria and Kimberly!!! How could I have known all that?” 

 “Nate, you’re not well I think you might have been exposed to some radiation, that’s the reason you’ve been having these mood swings.   And since when did you believe in fate, weren’t you the one who told me I can create my own destiny.”   There were tears rolling down her eyes, “ I don’t believe that you would take the easy way out, I thought that you were better than that, what about the people you will leave behind, did you ever think about them?”    “I just don’t want to hurt you Monica, your all I have left” he stammered.  

“Just please don’t do it, I trust you, just please come out of there.”   Monica voice was trembling and her legs were clattered together.  

“I know you trust me Monica but I love you too much.   But you have to know.   I wasn’t completely honest with you when I told you about the dream.   Just read the notes in my desk and you’ll understand.”  And with that he opened the airlock and was sucked into the darkness.

Monica collapsed to the ground and the rest of the crew stood there speechless.   No one moved for nearly 30 minutes.   Finally Manolo quivered, “A Alright, we’ve got to get her started, we’ll figure this out after that.   Jesus!!”  Everyone followed him out of the room except for Monica and Katherine.   Katherine bent down and sat next to her.  “I know it hurts, I cant really imagine what your feeling right now but you gotta know that we’re all here for you.   I know how much he meant to you.”  

“I just don’t understand why he did it, he said he never believed in any of that destiny crap.” Monica cried.  

“It must have been the radiation, there’s no real way to prepare to what that plus being out here for this many years will do to you.   You shouldn’t be alone right now, I walk with you to your room.”

No No, I’ll do it myself. I’ll be fine.   Just wanna be alone right now.   Don’t worry i’ll be fine.”   Monica knew she wouldn’t be fine but didn’t want to talk to anyone.   After nearly two hours of strait tears Monica got up off the floor and somehow found the strength to get to Nathanial’s room.   After staring at the door for several minutes she took a deep breath and went into his room.   She found the notes inside his desk under his antique firearm and began reading.   It was all there, not just the vague similarities that he had told her that one time but conversations down to the letter.  .   It got to the part where the ship had broken down, and she had expected it to end since that was all he had told her.   But there was more.

 

 And I yelled at Monica, “What are you doing?!?!  You’ll kill us all!”  And with that Manolo and I tackled her.   She resisted but we eventually got her under control and took my gun back from her.   We were about to take her to holding cell when she broke free of us and grabbed the gun.  She ran to the main airlock and began to wave the gun around, I saw a burn on the back of her neck, apparently the radiation had gotten to her.   All of a sudden one of the bullets went off, luckily it had hit solid metal but if she shot a hole in the airlock before the area was depressurized the whole ship would collapse.   Manolo sealed off the area, and looked like he was about to depressurize the airlock.   What are you doing, that will kill her I yelled. 

“It’s either her or us now.” He yelled back.

 “Please put the gun down and unload the cartridge.  She looked at me and aimed the firearm strait at my head and fired.   The barrier was thick enough to withstand it but I knew the other side wouldn’t.   She looked at me again and gave me a wry smile and was about to fire at the other side of the airlock.  “Noooooo!!!” I yelled and with that I depressurized the airlock and it opened.

 

            Monica didn’t know what to think. There’s no way that this could be true.  She would never do anything like that.   No matter how many times she went through it in her head she wouldn’t believe that she was capable of this.   She staid in the room for a while and after reading the notes another 5 times she decided to go to bed.   As she walked out of the room she noticed that the back of her neck was really itchy.   

 

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