Adrift on a Sea of Stars by John Stilwell by John Stilwell - Read Online

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Adrift on a Sea of Stars - John Stilwell

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For two weeks leading up to the storm, heavy clouds shadowed the region's solar power plants dropping their output. When the maelstrom arrived, the wind farms disconnected from the power grid and their mechanisms were allowed to run free to avoid damage to their gearing. The hundred and sixty mile an hour winds had pushed the ocean inland farther than ever before. For days the storm surge splashed and crashed against the first floor of the concrete residential building. Up and down the coast, countless compressed-air peaking power plants ran dry halfway through the worst of the tempest and a brownout extended across several states. The larger modern structures weathered the storm running on their emergency algae-oil power generators. The poor in old fashioned buildings cowered in the darkness hoping their walls wouldn't be blown down.

The category six hurricane that had delayed the launch schedule moved up the coast and out of harms way. Virginia and Maryland were licking their wounds. It was New York through Maine's turn to get beaten up. Meanwhile, another hurricane was forming out in the Atlantic. The weather AIs were predicting that it would be another big one.

Once upon a time category five hurricanes had been the most powerful. With climate change, hurricanes with winds over one hundred and fifty seven miles per hour had become common and a sixth category had to be defined. Since one extreme monster had reached two hundred miles per hour discussion had started on adding a seventh category. God help them all if 300 mile an hour hurricanes ever became the norm. Regardless, the international space agency had a hole in the weather and planned to use it.

The sun pierced through the retreating clouds. Most of the flood waters had receded leaving puddles and trash everywhere. A growing service industry, maintenance workers arrived promptly and toiled to take the storm shields off the building's windows. They had to be unbolted and hauled to a storage shed until the next storm. If the weather reports were correct in a week they'd have to put the shields back up. A second team worked against a tight schedule to clean up the mess around the building's front entrance.

The local police working with the FBI ensured that the press had set up their cameras from a discrete distance. The official documentary wouldn't be marred by a rogue reporter running across the parking lot to catch the starship captain as he left his home. Once the day was over, they'd have a lifetime to get all of the interviews and reenacted moments they wanted.

You look very handsome, Barbara complimented her husband. She brushed his shoulders vigorously trying to rub off the last few particles of lint.

It's the big day! Captain Brad Rutherford replied, worrying whether he needed a jacket or not. Sorry you can't be at the ceremony. The room should have been much bigger.

Disappointed but ever practical, Barbara turned her attention to their two young children, already lost in their cartoon shows and sighed, It'll be more comfortable watching from here.

The shuttle will pick you up for the party at four.

Don't worry. I'll be beautiful by then.

You always are. Brad kissed his wife and children goodbye.

Captain Rutherford walked out of the apartment and along the hallway. Ignoring the mini-cameras that had been positioned along the path, he scooted down the open stairway and out the front door and into the early dawn. He paused and briefly looked up into the sky. A robot car drove up. It's side door opened invitingly. The man entered and the vehicle left for the space port. Scene over. The history vids would forever remember the moment as calm and dignified.

The crowd behind the police lines started to disperse. The occupants of the residential building and the surrounding complexes were once again allowed to come and go as they desired. The government film crew took a short coffee break then knocked on Mrs. Rutherford's door.

Morning. She knew they would be arriving but the time had gotten away from her. I'm not ready yet. She gestured to her hair. I need to change. Makeup.

A woman in the hallway stepped forward. It's alright. I'll help you. Barbara recognized the hair stylist. A second woman was there to help keep the children entertained.

I'd like to start setting up if I may. Barbara stepped aside allowing the camera and sound men to squeeze by. Footage of the loving family watching their husband and father from their modest but comfortable apartment was planned to be used in several scenes in the documentary. A separate apartment down the hall away from the children had been set up to look identical and would be used for moments when Barbara would be pulled aside and asked to express her thoughts and feelings to the camera.

Over the years, space operations had moved to Georgia as Florida sank below the rising Atlantic. Less than half an hour later, Brad walked into the spacious lab. Hello Zhang, Ivan, he greeted. He waved to the others. Half of his crew in their matching uniforms were already there. The rest were trickling in behind. In the crowd were several executives in expensive business suits. The reporters wearing stylish civvies recorded every moment with their smart eyeglasses. Some had cameras on tripods. There were numerous technicians and doctors dressed in white lab coats. It was as if everybody had their own uniform. The four heavily padded lounges with huge white beehive helmets painted a macabre hue suggesting that robotic brain surgery was about to take place. In a sense, it was.

Brad liked the way he looked in his uniform. The blues complemented his skin tone. The extensive collection of colorful patches representing the Chinese, Japanese, Russian, European and Indian space agencies, NASA and the world's seven richest companies made the crew of twelve looked more like race car drivers than space explorers. He and the other eleven members of the IIET, International Interstellar Exploration Team, chosen from the supporting countries had been training hard these past five years. They knew every detail of the spacecraft and the flight plan. Correction. They knew every detail of all three starships and all three flight plans. Today they'd board the fleet in a manner of speaking. They wouldn't launch the starships for a month but today was the day the mission really began. This was the day history books would start the story of the greatest adventure ever attempted. Brad couldn't help but feel sad.

There were ample donuts and coffee on a long table in the corner. The donuts weren't the common type that everybody's food printers produced but were real baked dough! It was the type most people only had on holidays. Synth meals made from algae byproducts on the whole was good until you did an eat-off with the real thing. Synth just didn't have the rich depth of flavor and complex texture of nature made. Brad desperately wanted to score a few of the expensive treats for his family after the boarding ceremony was over but they'd be crushed in his pockets. Why did his suit have to be so tight?

The rumbling of the small talk was as loud as in any tavern. It continued for an hour. Confident that everybody who needed to be present in the real had arrived, the show began. The host was the latest astrophysicist turned celebrity. Guy Lewis had a great voice and better stage presence. For eight years his star had been rising by hosting science documentaries.

Welcome! Not since the Mars landing has there been such a historic event. And never again will there be a human footstep as momentous as this in history, the narrator opened. After years of meticulous work by an army of the most talented men and women that could be found, the first fleet of starships are completed and in orbit waiting for their crews to board their crafts. We are truly living in a golden age of discovery. And from the comfort of your homes, you won't miss a thrilling second.

To the viewing audience out in their homes or riding their robot cars or sneaking clandestine peeks at a pop-up video feed while at work, Guy was immersed in a swirl of images of rockets, space probes, rovers and the beautiful colors of planets, nebulas and galaxies. The background was swept away to show Guy in the lab. Brad and the rest of the starmen walked into the camera's view and to their designated spots behind the host, making an arc on either side of two padded chairs and suspended beehive helmets.

Guy continued to talk as they took their positions. With three starships completed, where will we go? Our brave explorers have before them a long and difficult journey. Only the promise of a habitable world would be a prize worth the cost! Which means a sun like our own. Our sun is a yellow star, a type G. A slightly colder one would be orange, type K. A slightly hotter one would be white, type F and A. All have a habitable zone for a planet within a reasonable distance from the sun. Inside the distance of sixteen light years from Earth, there are eighty stars. Most are dim cold Brown Dwarfs. Long lived red dwarfs are fun to consider but extremely unlikely candidates for habitable worlds.

A red dwarf has a habitable zone closer to the star than Mercury is to our own sun. Such a planet would be tidally locked, meaning one side would always face the sun. Half would cook while the far side would freeze. Any such planet would be so close as to be touched and scorched by solar flares. That is, if red dwarfs have flares.

Within a sixteen light year distance there is a sum total of six stars that are of type A, F, K and G. That's not many. And with three ships, we can't go to them all. Or can we? To the viewing audience the choreographed images exploded into view. Dazzling and provocative computer generated views of each star system based on the most up to date observations from the space telescopes made for a kaleidoscopic dance.

There was a graphic of the four different colored stars from cold to hot. Each had their letter superimposed. The yellow star had both a G and an image of Earth next to it. The orange and yellow stars sparkled and expanded into two suns revolving around each other while simulated planets did their own dance. A woman's