Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence
Everguard's mission: Establish a multidimensional gate inside Alpha Centauri A for Interstellar Command to fuel their new faster-than-light spaceships.
Lieutenant Commander Torrance Black, career already on shaky grounds, finds himself facing a quandry.
Did they just contact sentient life in the Centauri system?
Will humankind sacrifice an entire alien species in their quest for the stars?
Starflight, the first book of Stealing the Sun, a space based Science Fiction series from frequent Analog contributor and bestselling Amazon Dark Fantasy author Ron Collins.
Bestselling author Ron Collins frequently contributes stories to Fiction River volumes, as well as Asimov's SF Magazine and Analog Magazine. But for some reason lost in the mists of time, I didn't manage to grab one of his wonderful stories for Fiction River: Moonscapes. But I still wanted a Ron Collins science fiction novel because it didn't feel right to not have him in this bundle. So included is Starflight, the first volume of his fantastic series Stealing the Sun. As Robert J. Sawyer said, "Ron Collins is one of our best hard science fiction writers." I completely agree with Rob and I think you will as well after you read Starflight. – Dean Wesley Smith
"Ron Collins is one of our best hard science fiction writers—a novel from him is a major event. Enjoy!"– Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-Winning Author of Quantum Night
A great story of space expansion with a compelling moral question.– Amazon Review
I couldn't put this book down! The world the author creates is so detailed that I was fully immersed - can't wait for Book 2!– Amazon Review
A good balance of thought provoking content to make the reader stop and think as well as action to keep that reader coming back for more.– Amazon Review
Alpha Centauri A was chosen for a few very simple reasons. First, it was close, a mere 4.3 light-years from Earth. Second, it was a G2-type star similar enough to the sun that data taken directly from Sol could be used in software models without complex conversions.
The most important factor, though, was greed.
Each star in the Alpha Centauri system had adequate fusion material to support the new Star Drive propulsion systems, but Centauri A was the largest of the three, with a mass ten times that of Proxima and 20 percent greater than Centauri B. The supply of resources in A would last that much longer.
In the end, this was the factor that doomed the star to an accelerated death.
Ship Local Date: May 5, 2204
Ship Local Time: 1425
Lieutenant Commander Torrance Black stood on the gunmetal runway that circled Everguard's pod engineering assembly area. The rail was cold against his grip. Machinery ozone seeped through the deck's grate and hung in the open space like acrid memories, unchangeable and vaguely distant.
Everything appeared to be on plan.
Each tube bay stood open, the collection forming a perfectly spaced row of a dozen chambers, their three-meter spans empty, pristinely round, and gleaming with stainless steel beauty. The wormhole pods that went into these tubes were the size of G-class riders—thirty meters tip to tip with rounded cross sections that fit into circular launch tubes. Rugged brown thermal material gave them a stark, utilitarian appearance in the brightly lit assembly area. Each end of the pods was capped with conical black boots of heat-treated alloy, banded with a titanium-steel composite fashioned in the zero-g environment of Aldrin Station.
His staff wore fresh whites. Their voices echoed with professional bearing in the open expanse. A computer reported the status of the automated routine controlling the launch sequence.
"I want these tubes loaded by 1800 hours, folks," he barked with what even he realized was too much vinegar.
"We'll make it, LC," Malloy replied with a quick salute.
Torrance returned the gesture halfheartedly, then stepped into his glass-enclosed office. Malloy was the chief operations officer on this assignment, and trustworthy enough to keep things on track by himself. Torrance settled into his chair, sighed, and stared through a holographic image of the wormhole pod's internal guts.
The title echoed in his mind.
That was the thing about rank in the military.
Everyone understood what it meant. Rank labeled a man. It stayed with him. It would not be long before the promotion list was made public—not long before everyone knew where Torrance stood.
He would change the world today. As chief launch engineer, he would release a dozen wormhole pods that would burrow into Alpha Centauri A. Their external shells would burn away inside the star's core, and if at least nine of the twelve systems made it to the target point, they would rend space and create the far end of a wormhole. Raw hydrogen and helium would flow to the other side, where fellow crew members would latch these extradimensional warps to the back end of starships.
Then the universe would be open for the first time.
Sirius for breakfast, the Aldebaran double star for dinner.
It would change everything, even the name of the command he worked for. From the moment the pods took hold, Solar Command, the United Government's chief projection of force, would be reborn as Interstellar Command. Everguard—complete with 2,158 crew members and their families, and a soon-to-be obsolete propulsion system—was the first cruiser to carry the United Government Interstellar Ship (UGIS) designation, but it would not be the last.
He supposed he should feel something appropriate.
But Kip Levitt, the ship's propulsion officer, and a man Torrance had gone to school with so many years ago, had been promoted to full commander today.
Torrance had not.
And it didn't take a lifer to know that when a person in the chain of command is passed over for promotion, their career, for all effective purposes, is over.
"You have a call from Ensign Yarrow," Abke said. The comm light flashed on his desktop.
"Pass it through," he replied.
ABKE was an acronym for Autonomic Bioprocessing Knowledge Engine, the quantum-linked, microbiotic processing intelligence that operated the United Government's solar-system-wide network. Like every other system aboard Everguard, this mission represented its first test as an interstellar device. Not surprisingly, it had passed with full colors. Quantum entanglement was his generation's relativity, tested at every turn, passing every test.
An ensign's face filled his primary view screen. "All the tubes are loaded, sir. Power system is charged, and final prognostics are running."
"Thank you," Torrance replied. "We are on hold until the admiral arrives."
"Aye, sir, I'll tell Lieutenant Malloy."
The display changed back to the software circuitry Torrance had been working with before the call. He pressed a control pad to access the propulsion system. Green numbers read three-hundred-plus terra electron volts. A collider ringed the ship at a radius of five kilometers. Outside the observation panel, light from Centauri A made the ring gleam like a silver slash against the velvet blackness of space.
Torrance grimaced with something akin to jealousy.
The particles inside the ring were lucky. Their fate was revealed on a time scale of picoseconds.
Every member of the pod team had filled other jobs during the first leg of the journey, and would be reassigned to them during the trip home. Lieutenant Karl Malloy—his chief operations officer, for example—was a navigation system support specialist, second class, a job that amounted to gathering and processing data from the shipboard controllers to make sure they were still working. When Torrance wasn't launching probes he was the chief service engineer responsible for resolving problems with anything from fried communications systems to stopped-up toilets.
Not exactly glamorous.
But then, that could be said about his entire career.
He had never been one to seek limelight—not like Levitt, anyway. He hadn't been a zero-grav football hero at the academy or a leading officer candidate. He didn't grab control in survival school in times of emergency. Instead, Torrance faced difficult times by separating himself, filling his thoughts with code or whatever technical issue happened to raise its head that day. Hell, the entire Everguard mission was really just another case of burying his head in the sand.
He rose from his upholstered chair and stepped around the curved surface of his desk to enter the main assembly area. At the same moment, the far doors dilated and Admiral Robert Hatch entered the bay with a full escort of petty officers and assistants, including Torrance's CO, Captain Alexandir Romanov, and Government Security Officer Malcolm Casey.
"Admiral on the floor," Torrance shouted briskly, and presented a stiff-backed salute.
"As you were," the admiral replied.
Hatch was an older man with brown hair that showed gray at the razor line of his nonexistent sideburns. His green eyes sparkled, and he walked with an efficient stride that spoke of attention to detail and purpose of mind. "What is our status, Lieutenant Commander?"
"Green for launch, sir."
"That's very good. Your team is a credit to the service, Torrance."
"Thank you, sir," Torrance replied, glancing toward Captain Romanov.
Romanov smiled. "Indeed they are."
The captain's presence burned against Torrance's mind. Indeed they are. What bullshit. Without doubt it had been Romanov, a rigid, by-the-book-at-all-costs leader, who allowed the promotion billet to pass Torrance by.
Torrance held his tongue and, instead, admired the admiral's calm.
This was an important day for Hatch.
Once the pods were launched and the wormholes stabilized, the admiral would accept a position on the United Government's advisory council for the exploration of space. Mess hall rumors said Interstellar Command would use him as a PR lever at a time when it could cost trillions to build a proper Star Drive spacecraft. As such, the first formal Star Drive mission would rendezvous with Everguard in only a few days, and Hatch would shuttle off to Earth, leaving Romanov to command the seven-and-a-half-year return flight.
Technically it was possible to shuttle every member of the crew off Everguard in such a fashion if the UG wanted to. But it was actually cheaper to pay a crew to return the ship than it was to run the number of Star Drive missions it would take to do the job—and the fact was that Everguard would stand as a museum piece, and a symbol. Obsolete or not, no one wanted to cast her adrift.
Torrance gave the final authorization for "Go Launch," and watched his staff work. It helped him take his mind off the idea of Romanov at the helm.
The crew checked each status display, and inspected the firing assemblies, safety releases, and guidance systems. They closed the hatches of each tube, leaving a dozen anodized black disks evenly spaced along the curved wall, an image that made Torrance think of rounds in an old Remington Colt.
Power surged inside the launch system.
Twelve external launch doors dilated open with the recognizable groan of hydraulic pressure.
"Ten seconds to engage," a recorded voice echoed the readout that hung on the wall.
The room fell to an awkward silence.
The electric essence of tension wrapped itself around him, and his spine tingled with the idea that his entire life was tied up in these twelve wormhole pods. Without realizing why, Torrance wondered about his mother and father. With the time it took message traffic to travel from Earth to Everguard, it was possible they were no longer even alive.
The digital readout showed 00:07.
Power coils whined as they sucked energy from the collider.
Torrance recalled years at the academy, his first posting under Captain Jao. Torrance had worked through the ranks, receiving solid commendations at every posting. But opportunities for advancement at LC were limited, and Romanov was by-the-book.
Everguard traveled at nearly six-tenths the speed of light, which including acceleration and braking, translated into what was roughly a fifteen-local-year round-trip. By the time they returned home, the effects of time dilation meant the rest of the world would have aged an additional three years beyond that. Eighteen years, total for them. For the first time in a long while, he thought of Adrienne.
Software controllers ran on optical processors.
He would be forty-one standard years old when he arrived home.
His investments would likely have doubled twice—not that there had been much left after the divorce, but it should be enough to get by on for a while. At least that was something.
"Launch initiated, sir."
The compartment held its breath. Silence echoed where there should have been thunder.
"What's wrong?" the admiral asked.
"I have no idea, sir," Torrance replied, his heart growing cold. "But the pods are not away."