Chapter 2

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Caroline watched as the ensign left the bridge. She recalled his personnel file: He was born in the Mississippi Administrative District, in the city of Atlanta, but had spent most of his life on the Lionsgate Space Station. George Archer used to scratch out a living as tug-pilot, hauling fuel and spacecraft parts around the Earth-Luna system. He had been one of the best pilots in the business, and it was for his expertise that he was drafted for this mission. He'd received only rudimentary military training, and she did not appreciate his inexperience. He might fly well, but greenies could be the doom of any ship. Especially this one.

The journey would be ten years long. During that time, the crew would only be working once every six months, making sure that the flight AI was still doing its job properly. The duration of the mission was not unheard of; it was the nature of the mission that was unique.

The constant groan was still audible over the sounds of congratulation, reminding Caroline that the engines were roaring at their full capacity. Those engines, she realized with some dread, would continue to drone for more than a half year before finally shutting off. By that time, the Facem would be traveling at a large fraction of the speed of light, as fast as they could safely take her.

The admiral walked out of the bridge and into the observation deck. It was a simple rectangle, with windows on all sides. A bank of metallic doors stood vigil on one of walls.

Through the windows, Caroline could see the interior of the huge spacecraft. It was largely hollow, a massive column of air, many hundred meters in diameter. The walls were perfectly smooth, painted in the same shade of white that plagued the rest of the structure. Four platforms ringed the cylinder, positioned one above the other. Skyscrapers sprouted from these platforms like a black, stringy fungus, reaching up to touch the bottom of the next platform. They were almost identical to each other, every building made of darkened glass with strips of white metal running up their lengths. The light of the artificial sun glinted off their crystal skins. From where she stood, the reflected light looked like silvery slash marks, gaping across the height of the towers. Down at the base of the cylinder, Caroline could see the main common area, with its gardens and shops and cafes.

This was the starship Facem, the torch that would lead humanity to the greater lights in the distance. That was the sales pitch. She heard somewhere that the starship was more expensive than any other single project in the history of mankind. Whether the vessel was worth its hefty financial weight was not Caroline's concern, however. She would just be getting it where it needed to go without killing anyone.

The ship was manned by a crew of about twenty. For the most part, they served as a redundancy; the Facem's computers were perfectly capable of completing the mission on their own. But still, there must be a crew. If nothing else, they helped keep the passengers in high spirits. Then again, a human being is flawed and difficult to predict, where a machine would follow orders without question or deviation. On a mission this long and empty, it was dangerous to allow such a liability access to the flight controls. Apart from the crew, there were thousands of civilians onboard as well, each a possible saboteur. The screening process could only pick out so many bad apples. So many weak points, Caroline thought.

The mission was separated into three phases. The first phase of the flight was the primary burn, during which the ship would gain phenomenal speeds. The ship would accelerate uniformly for about a year. By the end of the astoundingly long burn, the ship would have reached relativistic speeds, meaning that time would be moving slower in the ship than it was in the rest of the universe. This resulted in a total mission length of about six years, whereas the people on Earth would see the ship in transit for twenty.

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