I officially lost my mind on Friday, June 26th, 2009. It was the beginning of the end.
The sugar momma I was sleeping with dropped me like a bad habit. That night, I drowned in a bottle of Sailor Jerry’s and cried myself to sleep.
The next morning, there to pick up the pieces, was the sound of Vangelis’ Antarctica.
Odd choice, I know, but I took to the alien, optimistic sound that momentarily took me out of my own head.
Vangelis Papathanassiou was an artist; one of the great film composers, musicians of the last century. Chariots of Fire is a classic, but in my mind, nothing will ever top the soundtracks to Blade Runner and Alexander.
I guess Carl Sagan was also a fan as Vangelis provided much of the soundtrack to the original Cosmos.
RIP Vangelis…the soundtrack to my life, the music of the cosmos…may your art live on.
“We are going home,” I announced to the crew onboard the Sagan. “To repair the ship, we’ll need Yah’s help. He’s being brought to the surface as we speak. His chamber will be stored in the cargo area, where Dr. Jackass will release him. We cannot get too close to Yah. He’s highly radioactive, but the Doctor will be equipped with a radiation absorber that I stole from the Ishnarians. You are ordered to remain out of the cargo bay. The Doctor will ask Yah to remain a safe distance from the crew.”
“If he’s God,” Patel asked, “can’t he make more radiation absorbers?”
“Good question Patel,” I replied, “but let’s not overthink this. Yah is not a supernatural being. He is made of real matter and is bound by gravity. That’s why he needs a spaceship to get off this planet. Additionally, it should be noted that Yah can read minds. But it appears that he can only do so at a certain distance. Perhaps up to 60 feet. If possible, stay 60 feet away from the cargo area. I can’t go into any more details, but when I order everyone to be at their stations, you will have 30 seconds to get there. Am I understood?”
“Good. Begin preparations for launch.”
I exited the Sagan to meet with Hazov. Off in the distance, Yah’s chamber was being wheeled towards the ship.
“It’s a shame that you are unable to stay,” Hazov said, “hopefully this is the beginning of a fruitful relationship between our two worlds.”
“Possibly,” I said.
“If you don’t mind me prying, Captain, I thought your ship was having trouble launching.”
I smiled. “Someone forgot to carry the 1.”
“I see,” he said. “Farewell Captain.”
We shook hands and I immediately went to engineering to speak with Commander Mwangi. “Commander, once when you see that the hydrogen drive is back online, fire it up immediately,” I told her.
“But Captain, with lift thrusters firing we’ll be moving at a tremendous speed. We risk burning the hydrogen drive out again.”
“Just do it.”
I went to the bridge and strapped into the navigation station next to Valdez. “What’s the fastest you’ve ever flown a ship?” I asked her.
“About 1/8th the speed of light sir.”
“Prepare to shatter that record.”
The Doctor then came over the intercom. “The chamber is loaded sir,” he said.
“Close cargo bay doors and release Yah from the chamber,” I ordered.
Yah spoke up. “Thank you for releasing me from my chains, Captain,” he said.
“Don’t mention it.”
I monitored controls from the command post. Moments later, Valdez spoke up. “Lift thrusters are online sir!”
The Sagan began lifting off the surface and into the atmosphere. I channeled down to engineering. “How’s that hydrogen drive coming along, Nia?!”
“Hydrogen drive is fully operational!”
Then a deeply distraught Hazov came over the radio. “Captain Kananga! Our planet is facing a torrent of earthquakes and tornadoes! We are dying! What have you done?!”
I radioed down to the cargo bay. “Yah! Unleashing the apocalypse on Ishnar wasn’t part of the deal!”
“Sorry Captain,” Yah replied. “The people of Ishnar have broken the covenant. They shall face my wrath.”
Now Yah was about to face my wrath, I thought. “I see,” I responded to Yah. “Dr. Jackass, please report to the bridge.”
I looked over to Valdez. “Have we cleared the atmosphere?” I asked.
“Yes sir, we are about to leave the outer orbit of Ishnar’s moons.”
“Good. Hopefully we can put enough distance between Yah and Ishnar.”
Moments later, Dr. Jackass entered the bridge. “Doctor,” I said, “on my count, open the cargo bay doors.
I went over the intercom. “Attention crew: please be at your stations,” I ordered, then activated life support systems on all decks.
After 30 seconds expired, I looked back over to Valdez. “Alright Commander, step on it!”
“Damn it Valdez! FLOOR IT!”
As we accelerated to an extraordinary speed, I ordered Dr. Jackass to open cargo doors. Centrifugal systems instantly cut out and we were floating at zero-g.
“Sir!” the Doctor yelled, “all contents in the cargo bay have been suctioned out! Including Yah! Closing doors now!”
As the gravity was being restored, I looked up at the radar. An energy source outside the ship was keeping pace. “Damn it! Yah is on our tail! More speed!”
“But we’re traveling near the speed of light!” Valdez replied.
“Can God go faster than light?!” Dr. Jackass asked.
“I guess we’ll find out!”
The ship began to rattle back and forth. We were under attack. Using his god-like power, Yah came over the intercom. “Is this how you want this to end Captain?” he asked. “Empty space makes a cold grave.”
“Faster Valdez!” I ordered.
“She’ll fly apart Captain!”
“Fly her apart then!”
Alarms and buzzers were going off across the bridge. The vibration intensified. If we were going to die, we were going to die going the speed of light.
Then I looked up at the radar. Another energy source was was gaining on Yah.
“I never go into space sober,” I told Dr. Jackass.
The USV Carl Sagan departed from Tranquility Bay en route to Tau Ceti. The doctor and myself were doing preparations before addressing the crew.
“I just don’t think introducing yourself to the crew is a good idea when you’re drunk,” the doctor replied.
“I’ll decide what’s best for this mission.”
The two of us got into our dress blues and proceeded to the conference area where the crew was assembled. “Good afternoon,” I said, “I am Captain William Kananga. You may call me Bill. The gentleman standing next to me is Dr. Sergei Jackass. He will serve as the executive, chief medical, and chief science officer of this mission. We are currently en route to Tau Ceti, approximately 4 light years away, which would make this the first interstellar mission outside of the Solar System.”
The crew looked at one another, startled by this revelation.
“The objective of this mission was previously classified, but now it can be told,” I continued. “Space Fleet has received a transmission from a planet orbiting Tau Ceti. The information contained in this transmission is of the most extraordinary nature. In fact, it has the potential to be the most significant finding in human history. There is now considerable evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. So our mission is to initiate first contact with these beings.”
I took a pause for dramatic purposes, then proceeded. “I’m sure you all have had time to meet with one another, but I will do some formal introductions. LT Commander Lauren Valdez is our Chief Pilot. LT Commander Dick Smashhouse, the co-pilot and navigator. Commander Nia Mwangi, Chief Engineer. LT Elizabeth Hanson and LT Arun Patel are also engineers serving under Commander Mwangi. In case you haven’t noticed, serving under my command are six very attractive people of both sexes: three males and three females from all corners of the Earth. This is done for the purposes of genetic diversity should we get stranded on this alien planet. Yes, we might have to fuck one another because this will be a long ass mission. Don’t worry about me though. My dick don’t work. Any questions?”
Commander Smashouse raised his hand. “Yes sir,” he asked, “can the Starship of the Imagination handle a mission of this magnitude? After all, she doesn’t have the best reputation.”
The crew laughed.
“Yes yes, I know about the reputation of the Sagan,” I replied. “But I assure you, with this new design and refit, she is now the finest ship in the Fleet. Anything else?”
Not a hand was raised.
“Then you have your orders. Once we reach the orbit of Jupiter, we will initiate the hibernation phase of this mission. DISMISSED.”
The crew disbursed to their respective stations. I met with Commander Mwangi to discuss the condition of the Sagan. “Centrifugal operations are fully functional,” she said, “our gravity is now comparable to Earth’s.”
“Very good,” I replied. “By the way, the Sagan is a good ship right? I hope I wasn’t blowing smoke up everyone’s ass.“
“Well,” she said and gave a long, uncomfortable pause. “I’ll just say that she can do the job. I’ll have a full report for you in the morning.”
“Thank you Commander. I’ll be in my quarters.”
I sat down at the edge of my bed and cracked open a beer. Dr. Jackass walked in moments later. “You should’ve packed liquor. It’ll last you longer,” he said.
“Are you feeling better now that you’re back in Space?”
“You know doctor, I know that you’re the Chief Medical officer, but I don’t need you to be my psychiatrist.”
“Jesus Bill! I’m just trying to have a conversation!”
“Well I’m still pissed off that Space Fleet has sent us on this wild goose chase. How can we initiate first contact with an alien species while Earth is an absolute dumpster fire?”
“Maybe a perfect world can never be achieved. But we should always pursue a better one.”
“Whatever Dr. Confucius.”
We were then interrupted by Commander Valdez over the intercom. “Sir, you have a subspace message coming in from Admiral Stockdale.”
“Put it through,” I groaned.
I put down the beer and booted up the computer. “To Captain Kananga: FOR YOUR EYES ONLY,” the message read. I tapped on the screen and a video of the Admiral popped up.
“Bill,” the Admiral said, “I regret to inform you that the war in North Africa has taken a turn. All nuclear powers have initiated Mutually Assured Destruction. The number of casualties is yet confirmed. The Fallout from this event will be considerable and all of Space Fleet personnel and equipment have been reassigned to assist in recovery efforts. In essence, Space Fleet is being disbanded. Therefore, this will be the final order from Space Fleet command: DO NOT abort mission. Repeat: DO NOT ABORT MISSION. The planet orbiting Tau Ceti likely has Earth-like conditions. It is advised to begin population initiatives there. Should that fail, use the hibernation chambers for as long as possible until radiation levels on Earth return to normal. This is a process that might take centuries. It is also advisable to not inform the crew of this development until after reaching Tau Ceti. It has been a pleasure serving with you Bill. Farewell.”
To avoid alienating my audience with discussions on politics that are completely boring and academic, I’ve decided to make a return to fiction.
Once again, I will challenge myself by writing in a genre that I’ve never done before. This time HARD science fiction (if you know what I mean 😉) a la Arthur C. Clarke, albeit in first person because that’s the only way I know how to write.
And instead of descending into pure action schlock, as my stories tend to do, I will try to end this one on a hopeful note.
Per usual, I will be winging it and make no guarantees that it will be good.
“Fuck space!” I said to my executive officer while we were docking at Space Station Tranquility Bay orbiting earth. “This will be my last mission, so help me GOD!”
“You said that 5 missions ago, Bill,” the XO replied. “Personally, I love it out here. It truly is a never ending frontier.”
“Speak for yourself, Jackass!”
Dr. Sergei Jackass and I served together for 15 years. I was a military man. He was trained astrophysicist from some dump of a university in east Europe. We came from two different worlds, but together we made one hell of a team.
After our ship, the USV Jim Varney, completed docking maneuvers, Dr. Jackass and I were ordered to meet with Admiral Stockdale for debriefing.
“Captain Kananga, I trust that your mission was a success,” the Admiral said.
“Yes sir,” I replied, “the two years studying the black hole around Uranus was money well spent.”
“We gathered all the sufficient data sir,” Dr. Jackass interjected.
“Good. You men will have a fortnight’s rest and then report USV Carl Sagan for your next mission.”
“Wait a minute, sir,” I said, “with all due respect, there’s a reason why the Sagan is called the Starship of the Imagination: because your imagination is the only thing that works on that piece of shit. If you want to send me into deep space in that thing, then you can have my resignation.”
“Captain Kananga, I understand that you want to be on the front lines in the war in North Africa, but this is important. We need you out here.”
“What can be more important than fighting for peace and democracy?”
“Because this information is classified, I was going to wait until you reported to the Sagan. But I will tell you now. We have received a strange transmission from a planet orbiting Tau Ceti.”
“Admiral,” I said, “I’ve been on one end of the Solar System to the other, and let me tell ya: there ain’t no aliens.”
“Space Fleet Command disagrees. STRONGLY,” the Admiral replied, “take a look at this report.”
The Admiral handed me a folder filled with charts and graphs I didn’t understand. “You know I can’t read this shit,” I said, “I’m a soldier, not a mathematician.”
Dr. Jackass took the paperwork and was stunned. “My god,” he said, “Captain, this is for real this time.”
I paused and rubbed my face. “Tau Ceti is over four light years away,” I said, “there’s no way the Sagan could make that kind of journey.”
“The Sagan has been updated and outfitted with all the necessary technology for interstellar travel,” the Admiral added. “We need you Captain. Damn it Bill. We need you. BADLY.”
The Admiral extended his hand.
“Okay Admiral,” I said as I shook his hand, “one more mission.”
I celebrated my birthday while on leave. I was somberly drinking myself into oblivion when Dr. Jackass stopped by my London flat.
“Doctor, I don’t want to be lectured,” I said.
“All I said was ‘happy birthday.’”
“With all the heavy interstellar objects that we’ve spent so much time around, we’ve aged so much slower than people on Earth. I’m the same age as my son now! Nobody told me that was gonna happen!”
“Is this about not being able to fight in the war?”
I took another drink. “I don’t know doc,” I said. “I feel like I’ve let so much time on Earth pass. This planet’s gone to shit and I’ve been wasting time flying around space doing nothing about it. The resources dedicated to Space Fleet could have been redirected to fight this war. I feel useless. Old.”
The doctor poured himself a glass of Irish Whiskey. “Captain, I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye,” he said, “but the exploration of space is Earth’s destiny. War is a machine of humanity’s past. It’s time to put childish things away and build a future.”
“Dr. Jackass, you’re an idealist. I’m a realist. We don’t live in the future. We live in the present. And presently I’m drunk as shit, depressed, and want to kill people.”
“You’re too short sighted.”
“No, I see the universe for what it is: a vast empty wasteland, void of any meaning or God. And if there is a God, he has to answer for creating this shitty planet. I swear.”