Star One: Tycho City Survival (7 page)

BOOK: Star One: Tycho City Survival
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“One more
thing you should know,” Linda added with a puzzled look on her face. “Professor
LaRann also said he has initiated a temporary communications blackout at
Farside.”

“A
communications blackout?” Mase felt a cold tingle run down his back; this
sounded serious. What the hell was going on? He needed to get to Farside as
quickly as possible. Obviously, something had happened. “Tell Anthony I’m on my
way to the launch pad.”

-

A few minutes
later, Mase and Anthony were on their way to Farside in one of the small
shuttles. Only this time, Mase had told Anthony he needed to get to Farside as
quickly as possible and not to worry about the fuel usage. As a result, they
would go into near orbit and then rapidly descend toward the base. The travel
time would be less than forty minutes.

Anthony
quickly accelerated the shuttle as they gained altitude. “What’s going on?” he
asked as the shuttle quickly reached its highest altitude and then began
falling back toward Farside. “They discover a comet’s about to hit the Moon or
something?”

“We don’t
know,” answered Mase as he watched the lunar surface passing quickly by beneath
them. “Something has happened, but LaRann is being tightlipped about it. All we
know is that he wants to see me as soon as possible, and Linda said he sounded
frightened.”

“Sounds
ominous,” commented Anthony as he adjusted the shuttle’s course slightly. He
had only been joking about a comet striking the Moon. Now he wondered if
Farside had discovered some type of threat to the Earth or the Moon. Anthony
had a sister on Earth who was studying to be a medical practitioner and he
hoped that something hadn’t been discovered that would be a threat to the planet.

As they flew
toward the base, Mase wondered just what had happened. What could be so
important that Pierre needed to see him and why had he initiated a
communications blackout? Mase had a terrible feeling that he wasn’t going to
like the answer. It also bothered him that Linda had mentioned that LaRann had
sounded frightened over the com. LaRann was one of the calmest people that Mase
knew. The only thing he had ever seen LaRann get excited about was the dish
array.

-

Pierre was watching on a viewscreen as Commander Colton’s shuttle landed. He was in the complex’s
main conference room, which was located deep underground. He had numerous sheets
of data spread out on the table in front of him. He also had several photos
that had been rushed to him from LeAnn Kelly. They showed an obscure dim dot in
the center surrounded by brighter stars. The dot was the neutron star.

Looking at one
of the photos, Pierre felt all doubt about the discovery disappear. The photo
showed that something was indeed there. The big question was where had this
neutron star come from? He held his hand out in front of him; at least it
wasn’t shaking. He reached forward, picked up a glass, and drank several
swallows of cold water. It helped to relieve the tension. He wasn’t looking forward
to his upcoming conversation with Commander Colton. How did you tell someone that
the world might be about to come to an end?

A few minutes
later, he was interrupted from his thoughts as Commander Colton opened the door
and stepped into the conference room.

“What’s going
on, Pierre?” Mase demanded as he quickly walked over to the table. He could see
that LaRann had several stellar photographs and some data charts spread out in
front of him. “What’s the fire about, and why have you ordered a communications
blackout?”

“Sit down, Commander.
You’re not going to like what I have to tell you.” Pierre took off his glasses
and laid them on the table. He took a deep fortifying breath and looked at Mase.
He could feel his heart pounding in his chest.

Mase took a
seat and listened as LaRann carefully explained what Adam had recently
discovered. Mase interrupted him several times, wanting some key points
explained in more detail. He began to understand why LaRann had demanded that
he come to Farside. To some of his questions Pierre knew the answers; to others
he didn’t.

“A neutron
star that close to our solar system,” spoke Mase, feeling numb. He was having a
hard time believing what LaRann had just told him. “Do we know what direction
it’s moving? Is it coming toward us?” He gazed at LaRann, waiting for an
answer.

“We don’t know
yet. We need a few more hour’s worth of observations to determine that. Adam
currently has the entire array focused on the neutron star. LeAnn and Charles are
in the process of taking detailed observations with the Albertson reflector.”

Mase let out a
sharp breath. He shook his head trying to clear it. LaRann wouldn’t have
summoned him and initiated a communications blackout unless he was extremely
worried. With a cold chill, Mase knew this neutron star could be extremely
dangerous. He knew enough astronomy to understand this was bad.

“If this
neutron star is coming toward us, what will happen to our solar system? How
will it affect us?” he asked as he braced himself for LaRann’s response.

Pierre put his glasses back on and for a moment looked much older than his forty-eight
years as he thought about Mase’s questions. These were difficult ones to answer,
and he could only guess at the affects the neutron star would have on the solar
system. Once he received more detailed information from the others, he would
know more.

“A neutron
star will have several times the mass of our own sun. If it comes much closer
to our solar system, it could affect the orbits of some of the planets. Perhaps
even the orbit of Earth. If it actually comes into our solar system, it would
have devastating effects. However, that is only conjecture. We need more time
and observations to determine its exact trajectory.”

Mase reached
forward and picked up one of the photographs. He noticed that LaRann had
circled a dim dot in the center in red. It looked so harmless in the photo.
Mase was silent for a moment as he thought about what he needed to do. His
throat felt dry, and he reached out and poured some cold water from a small
pitcher on the table into a glass. After taking a long drink, he began thinking
about what his options were.

If this
neutron star was a real threat, Steve Larson on Star One would have to be
notified immediately. Mase would need Steve’s help in order to figure out what steps
they needed to take. The computer core on Star One would be needed to evaluate
the data from Farside’s observations.

Then they
would have to notify Tim McPhryson, the president’s Science Advisor. Mase felt as
if the weight of the world had just settled on his shoulders. There would have
to be a lot of decisions made if this neutron star was coming toward them. With
a sinking feeling, Mase knew this neutron star was about to change all of their
lives. He grew worried about his brother Phillip on Earth and how he might be
affected by all of this. Most of the people living on the Moon still had close
family members on Earth. This could be very difficult for a lot of them once
the news got out.

After speaking
with Pierre for a few more minutes, Mase made his way over to the Albertson
reflector. He wanted to talk to Charles and LeAnn and get their input on the
situation. The two were brilliant scientists in their own right and might be
able to give him more insight on this momentous and dangerous discovery.

Entering the
main observation room, which contained the reflector, he saw the two huddled
over a large computer screen. They both looked up as he walked over to them.

“Have you
talked to Pierre?” LeAnn asked in a quiet voice, her eyes showing deep concern.
“Has he told you what Adam found?”

“Yes,” replied
Mase, trying his best to sound calm. “Are both of you certain that this is a
neutron star we’re dealing with?”

“I found it
hard to believe in the beginning,” admitted Charles, looking up at Mase. “But
after using the telescope and photographing it, there can be no doubt. It’s
there!”

“From our
observations, it’s about eighteen miles in diameter and 2.2 times the mass of
our sun,” continued LeAnn, in an informative voice. “From what Adam told us
earlier, it’s rotating around its axis about two times per second.”

“We also think
it’s heading in our direction,” Charles spoke with a worried frown spreading
across his face. “From the time it was first discovered until now it has shown
virtually no sideways movement.”

“It’s a long
distance from us,” Mase pointed out. “It might take time to show much movement
if it’s moving slowly toward us.”

“That’s the
problem,” added LeAnn with a deep sigh. “If our initial observations are
correct, it’s moving toward us at an extremely high rate of speed.”

“How high?”
asked Mase, feeling a chill run down his back. He didn’t like the looks on
their faces.

LeAnn looked
over at Charles before answering. “We need to run everything through Star One’s
computers, but we think it’s coming toward us at a speed of over three hundred
miles per second.”

Mase’s eyes
widened at this revelation. “Three hundred miles per second,” repeated Mase slowly.
“Isn’t it unusual for a neutron star to be moving at that speed?”

“No,” replied Charles,
arching his eyebrows. “They are the remnants of a nova and the velocity of most
neutron stars is quite high.”

Mase was quiet
as he thought about what the two scientists had just told him. It sounded to
him as if they both believed the neutron star was heading straight toward the solar
system.

“This neutron
star could be extremely dangerous to our solar system and even Earth,” LeAnn
stated, her brown eyes focusing intently on Mase. “If it is on the course we
think it’s on, it will drastically affect the orbits of all the planets.”

“Yes,” Charles
added in agreement with a haunted look in his eyes. “If it comes into our solar
system, none of us will survive!”

-

An hour later,
Mase was standing outside on the surface of the Moon. He had put on one of the
base’s spare spacesuits and stepped outside so he could think. Looking out
across the Farside site, he could see the large dish antennas dotting the
landscape. They stretched out as far as he could see. Behind him, the Albertson
reflector pointed toward a distant spot in space where the neutron star had
been discovered.

“I thought you
might be out here,” Anthony Kleese spoke as he walked up to the commander in
his own bulky white spacesuit. “I come out onto the surface quite often myself to
clear my head. Particularly if I have something really serious I need to think
about.”

“It seems to
help,” responded Mase, glad to see Anthony; he had a very level head and was
easy to talk to. “I don’t get out on the surface very often anymore. There
always seems to be something that comes up.”

Looking out
across the desolate lunar landscape, Mase could see several Moon Buggies going
down the numerous roads to the different dish antenna sites. They stirred up
clouds of gray dust, which slowly settled back down to the surface in the low
gravity.

Looking up,
all he could see were stars. They seemed so bright here on the backside of the
Moon. Due to the Moon’s current location in its orbit around the Earth, the
Farside site was currently in darkness. Star One, the massive space station in
orbit at the Earth-Moon Lagrange point was also out of sight. Since the
Lagrange point was located between the Earth and the Moon, the station would
never be visible from Farside.

“What’s going
on?” asked Anthony, curiously. “I stopped by the base’s cafeteria earlier for a
bite to eat and everyone is talking about some type of major discovery made by
the array and confirmed by the Albertson reflector. But no one seems to know
quite what it is and if they do, they’re not talking.”

Mase sighed
deeply. The secret would be known throughout the base shortly. Too many people
already knew about the neutron star. Pierre had done the correct thing ordering
a communications blackout. That was another item Mase would have to figure out
how to handle. If the blackout continued too much longer, people would start to
ask questions, particularly the people on Earth who normally spoke to Farside. Mase
suspected that NASA was already making inquiries into what was going on.

Taking a deep breath,
he began telling Anthony about the discovery. He had known Anthony for several
years and trusted the experienced shuttle pilot completely. They had also
become close friends.

“A neutron
star,” Anthony said in a subdued voice. “I took several classes in astronomy in
college, and I know what a neutron star is. This could be serious. What are we
going to do?”

“Professor
LaRann is compiling all the data and we’re running it through Star One’s core
computer system. We told Andrew Matheson on Star One that it was just some routine
observations we wanted to check. Once we know the final results, I will notify
Commander Larson on Star One, and we will discuss what our options are.”

Anthony stood
silently, gazing up toward the distant stars. He looked back at the ground and
kicked up some Moon dust with his spacesuit shoe. He watched it drift slowly
back down in the Moon’s light gravity. “This will change everything. From what
I know of astronomy, that star is already close enough to cause problems with
the orbits of the outer planets.”

“That’s what
LeAnn and Charles said,” confessed Mase, trying not to let the fear of what had
been discovered enter into his voice. “We just don’t know how badly the orbits
of the planets will be affected.”

Anthony nodded
as he thought over what Mase had just told him. It was too early to tell how
this would affect all of them. “My sister Jean is at Stanford, attending
college. We all have family on Earth.” He turned until he was facing Mase. “How
is this going to affect them?”

BOOK: Star One: Tycho City Survival
8.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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