The space race was reignited in late 2014 with the Russians declaring that they were going to put a manned space station on the moon. They brazenly declared that they would mine the moon’s riches and have an unshakable foothold on the Earth’s only natural satellite long before anyone else managed to get there to compete. Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Crimea that same year left no doubt that the Ruskies meant business. So the President of the United States rose to the occasion, funnelling money to NASA the likes of which had not been seen since the 1960s. China, Japan, and Germany also stepped up their space game, but as it was in the 1960s, it was in 2014, Russia and the U.S. were the major players.
NASA had already made their big announcement regarding the “Impossible Drive”. There were scientific papers published that one could read on the internet and pretend to their contemporaries that they understood. Many the pedantic water cooler expert could be heard telling his co-workers that NASA’s test results proved that the RF resonant cavity thruster design produced a force not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore demonstrated an interaction with the quantum vacuum plasma. Don’t worry if you don’t catch the meaning of all that, most of the population in 2014 didn’t get it either.
The Impossible Drive was still pretty theoretical in 2014, but NASA was pretty well convinced that they could convert electricity into thrust by bouncing microwaves around in a canister. The hope was that the minimal amount of electricity needed could be provided through solar power, cutting out the need for a ship to carry solid fuel. Since there is no friction in space, they believed that the small amount of thrust would build exponentially and help them start deep space travel. It was thought they would be able to reach Mars using such a drive in a matter of weeks as opposed to six months.
The space push was well received by the U.S. public, sparking all kinds of private businesses to up their game as well. Everyone wanted to be the first to the moon, to Mars, to an asteroid, you name it. One tech billionaire even started his own reality show, “Who Wants to Live on Mars?” It was an incredible hit. Four pretty people were selected through a series of ridiculous games and challenges that scientifically had nothing to do with space travel, although the majority of the populace believed they did. Think centrifuges and drinking one’s own urine.
Anyway, those four imbeciles were actually the first ones to make the trip to Mars, bypassing the moon altogether. They were blasted off, crammed into a tiny habitat at the top of a UniverseSpanner Argus V Rocket. You couldn’t fault the physicists and mathematicians the show hired, they got that 100 square foot survival module to Mars in six months, 2 days, five hours, and seven minutes. Though they really should have done a better job with the psychological screens. Of the two pretty women and the two dashing men that were blasted toward the red planet, only one was left alive upon reaching Martian orbit.
I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say, the last man standing was well fed when he got there. His mind was completely gone, and he never did make it to the surface. He just kept orbiting. The show was cancelled mid-season, as the writing was on the wall long before he finally snapped. I bet they have some pretty gnarly footage.
Moving on now, the sole survivor orbited for eight years. Then the Chinese made it to Mars successfully. They nudged the show’s module just enough so that it fell to the surface. They then, as a favor to the United States and the tech billionaire, destroyed what was left. The Chinese Martian settlement had problems of its own, but nothing as spectacular as the disaster that was “Who Wants to Live on Mars!”
This is just a little bit of background to my story. Just something to set the scene. You need to understand, I think, what it was that spurred us into space. Guys like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking were hopeful that mankind would see the necessity of colonizing the stars as a means to propagate our species. That isn’t what drove us to the stars. No, we just didn’t want the other guy to get there first. That, and good old fashioned greed. With the start of the space race and all the money getting funnelled to space exploration R and D, incredible leaps forward were made in the technology, and it was suddenly lucrative to mine asteroids, the moon, and Mars.
I was born on May 7, 2035. By that time, the “Impossible Drive” was in its fifth iteration and was no longer billed as “impossible”. It had a much less exciting name, the EmDrive. It was small, sipped solar energy, and could get a man to Mars in two weeks and four days. The Russians had delivered on their promise and held the moon in an iron grip. The United States was a member of a coalition of eight nations that had a huge installation on Mars, however, and deemed the moon small potatoes. The United States also had huge contracts with a number of private space mining corporations, who had perfected the art of wrangling asteroids and comets. It was the dawn of a new frontier.
A terraforming shell was being constructed around Mars, it was said that in a few decades the completed shell would create a breathable atmosphere on the Red Planet. Floating cities were on the drawing board to be tested high in the Venusian atmosphere. It was a real space revolution.
Despite all this interest in space, it was alarming how few people actually understood the physics that made it all possible. The masses were just as ignorant as ever. That, I believe, is what made the events of 2050 possible.
That was the year of “The Great Return”. There was a small, but well funded, church group that arose out of a quaint town in Northwestern Wyoming called Cody. They called themselves “The Fellowship of Man” and managed to cobble together a spacecraft in 2045. September 25, 2045, the entire church (all 25 of them), rode their craft, complete with EmDrive, into Deep Space.
They had no set course, confident that God would shepherd them to their promised land. They certainly weren’t the first set of nuts to do such a thing, nor the last. However, they were the only ones to have ever returned. Exactly five years later a ship, the likes of which no one had ever seen, appeared in the skies of Wyoming. It was gleaming white and looked like one of the great egyptian pyramids. We all thought contact with an extraterrestrial species had finally occurred.
The pyramid settled onto the windswept plains between Cody and Powell, Wyoming, near the McCullough Peaks. I cannot describe to you the shock people felt when the door to that ship opened up and the Reverend Robby D. Gentry strode purposefully out and down the white stairs to the gathered throngs. It was eerily reminiscent of Charlton Heston’s Moses returning from upon Sinai to deliver the Ten Commandments.
The world took to calling Reverend Gentry the Reverend Returned, and his flock of twenty five skyrocketed beyond imagination, billions of people heard his call. The Reverend spent his fortune on that tin can he took into space, but his return made his church the wealthiest organization in the world. Think on that. When I say organization, by the way, I am including all the nations of the solar system.
Even more incredible than the Reverend’s dramatic return and the strange ship in which he made it, was the gift that he brought back with him. Remember when I said the ship appeared in the sky above Wyoming? I meant that literally. It just blipped into existence. That was made possible by what the Reverend called “The God Drive.”
The Reverend spun a tale the likes of which had not been heard since the days of Jesus Christ. Humanity was convinced that God had finally returned and spoken directly to the good Reverend Returned. For that is what he told us. According to the Rev, his flock travelled the stars for four years and a day, holding steadfast to their faith despite starvation and sickness. The faithful five that survived the exodus were rewarded for their loyalty when God brought them safely to a tranquil world, uninhabited by any sentient species, yet ripe for human habitation. It was there, Reverend Gentry preached, that God Himself rewarded the faithful with the ship and the drive.
The God Drive. You think people had a hard time understanding the principles behind the EmDrive? No one could comprehend how the God Drive did what it did. Theories abounded, true, but when one saw the drive in action, well, even the most die hard atheist became a believer. Instantaneous interstellar travel. One second you are orbiting the Earth, the next you are eight galaxies away, orbiting New Canaan, a planet so similar to the Earth that one could easily mistake the two.
I was fifteen years old when the Fellowship of Man returned to Earth. I was twenty two when I was discharged from the Space Corp, and I was twenty five when I was paroled from prison after serving a sentence for theft of a space faring vehicle. Truth be told, I stole scores of space faring vehicles before the law caught up to me, but that is a tale for another day. What is important is that I served my debt to society and was released.
When I stepped out of the gates of the Alaskan state penitentiary, I was greeted by a member of the Fellowship of Man. They had a job for me if I wanted it. They needed good pilots to shepherd their flock across the universe. New Canaan was just the tip of the iceberg. Humanity was destined to spread its presence to the ends of forever. Of course, I took the job. What else was I to do?
The Fellowship had an odd training program. The first thing they did was subject me to a barrage of multiple choice tests. As far as I could tell, they were personality tests. I thought for sure I would fail, as they ensure candor by hooking you up to the most sophisticated lie detectors while you’re being tested. The only instruction they gave me was to answer truthfully, so I did. It really came as a surprise when they told me I was just what they were looking for.
My name is James Ratabaugh. Captain Ratabaugh now. I joined the ranks of the Fellowship’s pilots, captaining ships equipped with the God Drive. Ships with names like “Gods Will”, “Word of God”, and “Manifest Destiny”. I am a fantastic pilot, and they tell me that I am a natural leader. I don’t know about all that. Regardless, I ended up with my very own ship. I christened it “The Crusade.”
They weren’t thrilled about my choice in moniker, telling me it didn’t convey their Christian message. I disagree, as anybody with any knowledge of history would agree, not only is it a Christian name, but it turned out to be a propos to my mission. I am a seeder. I pilot my ship and lead a small crew to ripe worlds to prepare them for the coming flock.
What I have learned during my time with the Fellowship would shock many. Let us just say that all the personality tests make sense to me now. They need a certain type of person to lead their seed ships, and I fit the bill. These are my personal memoirs, not meant to be read by anybody. But I wouldn’t feel right, despite my being an unprincipled lout, if someone didn’t keep a record of what was really happening.
To be continued...