HOME WORLD – Prolog & Chapter One by William DeSouza

Posted: June 25, 2013 in Written Works by William DeSouza

 

 HOME WORLD

A Science Fiction Novel by William DeSouza (c)2013

– Prolog and Chapter One Sample Chapters –

THE FINE PRINT: All rights reserved. No part of the novels or short stories may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without written permission from the author. The only exception to this is the sample chapters that may be provided from time to time. Any sample chapters or short stores provided may be printed for the users personal use only and may not be reprinted. Electronic copies may be stored but only for a limited time period, sufficient to finish reading.  Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this web site, and the materials provided, the author  assume no  responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.

 


 
“The greatest test of courage on Earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” Robert G. Ingersoll


Prolog

 

John Solomon read the data scrolling across the computer screen and raised an eyebrow in a skeptical expression. Everyone else stood back quietly, already knowing the contents of the data file Solomon was reviewing. The lab was not crowded, with only seven others in attendance, but each person could feel the walls closing in on them as the magnitude of the data was now reviled to yet another.

As director of the astronomical project, it was his shoulders that everyone leaned on to get what they needed. It was his responsibility to ensure that any papers published by the team was fact checked and peer reviewed and it was his ass on the line should anything get out that could not be verified. This – this data however, was not something he ever could have imagined would include his name. As he stared at the screen, he could not fathom how he’d be able to support his own emotions, never mind that of any one else.

The chair Solomon sat in creaked as he leaned back, the last of the text finished flashing across the screen and embedded in his mind, repeating over and over again in his thoughts like an old fashion reel to reel tape that had come to the end but did not stop; instead kept spinning. The end of the tape flapping as it went round and round.

He stood slowly, looked down at the terminal then quietly turned to the others in the room and, pausing for a moment, finally said, “How many times have you checked the data, the signal feed, and has the computer finished decoding the information and verified the contents?”

He had too many questions to ask and what he was looking at only presented him with more questions.

“We’ve checked it all four times. We’ve all seen it and we’ve all examined the raw data and verified our conclusions with the computer model. We even got access to the new processors at Plans de Ville in Quebec. It’s all been verified, checked and double checked,” replied the young assistant, somewhat exasperated.

Solomon continued to gaze at the screen. He had only just come back from a well needed vacation with his family when he received the emergency call to report to the lab. He had said to his wife before going to the facility where he worked, “Go away for three weeks and you find out they can’t do anything without you.”

In hind sight, he realized he should never have come back.

He picked up the hard copy printouts and paced as he flipped through the reams of paper in his hand. He turned to the project supervisor, Terrance Leblanc, his assistant, “Have you gone to anyone else with this?”

“No, not yet. I wanted you to see it first and get the full team involvement. I need everyone’s input and back up before I contact Geneva and Hawaii with my findings. We need to get corroboration on this before we can even think of taking it to the UN.”

“I agree – we don’t want to jump the gun on this one; it just doesn’t make any sense.” Solomon paused to think. His head was beginning to throb with pain, mixed with confusion. “OK, I agree, we do need to look into this further. But I hope you’re dead wrong and the data is faulty. Let’s make the call. Also, we should contact NASA and see about getting time on the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. We’re going to need additional readings up close and SOHO should be able to give us what we need. But I hope to God that we’re wrong – it’ll be the end of us all if this is true.”

Solomon put down the printouts without emotion, turned, and walked out of the lab quietly, heading back to his office at the end of the hall, a blank gape on his face. He was not sure what to think about what he had just learned. He hoped that it was a dream, a bad dream. He even pinched his arm to check, chuckling to himself when it hurt.

I must be out of my freaking mind, that’s it. This is not real and this is not happening he thought.

“How do you explain the end of the world to your children?” He said it out loud to no one. He couldn’t think past that thought, the only thing that he could hope for now was that the data was flawed in some way and that the team had made a gross error in gathering and interpreting the figures.

He reached his office, opened the door, and ignoring his secretary, went into the inner chamber, closing the door behind him.

—-

Leblanc picked up the ringing phone, “Hello – Terrance Leblanc speaking.” Leblanc’s office was spacious and well appointed but simple in taste. He liked the simple life and although the pressures of his job at the Astrophysics and Geosciences Institute could sometimes get demanding, he could always count on his knowledge and his teams’ abilities to keep everything on an even keel. This time however was different and he wasn’t sure how he was going to cope.

The voice on the other end of the line identified himself as Alexander Falardeau. In a French Canadian accent he said, “It’s good to talk to you again Terrance. We haven’t had a chance to get together in what – must be eight months now.”

“I know – it’s been too long my old friend. I wish the circumstances were different Alexander. I take it you’ve received the email and my attachment?”

“I have – and to say that I’m skeptical is putting it mildly. I’m not sure how I feel about this data you sent. That being said, and in the interest of gathering the truth, I’ve authorized your team three weeks on SOHO to confirm or disprove your theory.”

Falardeau was more than a little concerned that he was playing into a hoax or just plain wasting his time and resources on this. There were other groups that wanted to use SOHO, important and influence people and groups; people like Stephen Hawking and others. And putting Leblanc’s group at the head of the cue caused a minor stink. He had known Leblanc for many years however and knew him enough to know that he did not react on a whim. He would have checked the preliminary data several times over before going this far.

“Thanks Alex. I know you’re pulling in a number of favors and strings to get us this time. I hope that I’m way off on this and we’re wrong. I don’t want to think of the consequences if we are right.”

The call ended and Leblanc was left staring at the wall in front of him, numb with fear and doubts.

—-

Solomon walked along the canal holding his clasped hands behind his back. His shirt and pants were wrinkled and sagging. His eyes were puffy, and he looked like he hadn’t slept in a month. He walked aimlessly, not seeing the beauty and wonder unfolding around him in the park.

Several children were playing nearby while attentive parents and caregivers watched and listened to laughter and song. Birds flew overhead cawing to each other, dancing on invisible air currents. He didn’t hear the sound of the wind blowing gently, the leaves on the trees rustling. He missed the gurgling rush of water flowing past as it lapped against the rocks lining the canal.

Leblanc, sitting on a bench by the canal stood when he saw Solomon approach. He noted that Solomon had an empty and distant gaze as he walked. He hoped that he didn’t have that same appearance.

Solomon almost walked past and only stopped when Leblanc spoke up, “I see you haven’t come to enjoy the park.”

“Pardon?”  Solomon stammered. “What?”

“Oh – I’m so sorry Terrance. I’ve been somewhat distracted of late.” Quickly changing the topic, “I must admit that I was surprised you asked to meet me hear of all places. I wasn’t in the mood for a walk” He looked around only now seeing the beauty that surrounded him.

“I felt a change of venue was appropriate and under the circumstances, the wide open park seemed proper.” Leblanc gestured to the bench he was sitting at as both men took a seat.

It was half past three in the afternoon and on a Wednesday. Other than the park play area, there were not many people about. The odd jogger ran past, as did several people in suits cutting across the park, on their way to work or maybe home. There was no risk of being overheard as the two men spoke.

Solomon, tired and spent, spoke first, “I am guessing by your tone that you don’t have good news.”

“No.” Leblanc turned to face Solomon, crossing his legs at the same time. His corduroy pants made a shifting noise on the plastic recycled bench as he did.

“I’m afraid I don’t have good news. But I do have a silver lining of sorts.”

That last comment gave Solomon a pause. He detected a note of optimism in what Leblanc just said, even if it didn’t show in his expression. He lifted his head, ready to listen to this silver lining.

Leblanc went on, “As we calculated and feared our data was not flawed. The suns hydrogen helium mixture of fuel is running out. It is inexplicable and makes no sense, but at the present rate of decay it will begin to expand slowly in thirty-five to forty years and will engulf Earth and the inner planets in fifty to eighty years as a red giant. This is so new to us that exact numbers are impossible right now. We only know that it is happening.”

So far Solomon was still waiting for the good news. He anticipated that Leblanc would confirm the original calculations and so did not seem surprised, only disappointed.

Continuing, Leblanc said, “I’m telling you this in the same way it was told to me by NASA and like you, I was at a loss for words. I spoke with Alexander Falardeau and he confirmed our findings with the SOHO data. The final projections only double checked this morning.”

Leblanc was becoming irritated and stood, his own frustration showing. He was the head of the project and he couldn’t do anything. He felt helpless, as if he were in a small boat meandering down a river without ores, powerless to affect his direction and not knowing where he was headed, or how fast he would get there.

He spoke again after sitting back down, “One last thing.”

Solomon interrupted, “The question of why?”

“Yes. None of the projections can tell us how or why this process started. None of the data can explain why or how things began to go wrong. Were our own theories of sun formation so wrong as to grossly miscalculate the life and death of a star? I have no answers and nether does anyone else. This is completely out of the scope of our understanding since nothing we know tells us that we were wrong.”

Leblanc stood once more and paced a short distance before walking back to the bench, and after taking several deep breaths, sat.

“I said that there was a silver lining and here it is…” hesitating and with a slight tremor in his voice, he continued, “Operation Exodus, the mass evacuation of planet Earth.”

Nothing was said, nothing needed to be said as Solomon sat staring blankly at Leblanc, his mouth open in total shock and disbelief. After a few moments he began to laugh, shaking his head.

He wiped away a tear from his left eye when he gained control of his emotions. “What the hell are you talking about Terrance? You’ve completely cracked up, is that it? Can you take me to your happy place or share whatever drugs you’re on so I can fee that good?”

It was Solomon’s turn to stand and pace. He walked away, stopped and turned, and still shaking his head went back to the bench.

“Tell me you’re not serous, that you just wanted to pull one final joke over on an old man like me.”

Leblanc shook his head and said, “You’re not that old and I’m not kidding and I would never joke about this.”

“No, of course you wouldn’t. Then tell me what in the hell you’re going on about – and get to the point of this very quickly. I’m in no mood for any levity.” Solomon’s voice was beginning to show the strain he was under.

“When I spoke with Alexander, he said that NASA confirmed what we now know to be the final end of our collective and ancestral home. He then told me about a project that a black operations team had been working on for the past several years – Operation Exodus.  It was brought back to life in 1994 with the discovery and confirmation of a near earth asteroid, 1994 WR12. At the time President Clinton authorized the funding for the projects current incarnation, but it was under Ronald Reagan that the initial concept was conceived.”

Leblanc had to pull out his Blackberry tablet and scan his notes. He unzipped the leather case and flipped up the tablet computers cover. After calling up the file he continued. “When the Star Wars Missile Program was first announced and we were at the height of the Cold War in the early nineteen-eighties, some bright boys at the Pentagon decided that we may not win an all-out nuclear war and that the missile defense shield would not protect the United States. They came up with original concept to – well, simply put, leave Earth and settle on another planet.”

Solomon was dumbfounded. He could not conceive that anything so far fetched could not only get the attention of the President but funding as well. He didn’t want to interrupt Leblanc however so he let him proceed.

“The idea was to settle on pre-fabricated stations set up on the Moon or Mars, wait for the fall out to settle and return.”

He saw Solomon twitching as if he was about to get up and walk away.

Quickly he continued, “Now – before you walk away again, let me finish. The idea was to settle on pre-fabricated stations set up on the Moon or Mars, wait for the fall out to settle, and return. They may have received some initial seed funds to develop the concept further, but that’s as far as they got. Nothing was said of the project again until NASA started the Near Earth Object Program. When we began to find an abundance of potential planet killers in the nineties, 1994 WR12 being one of the first and largest, NASA quietly went to the President and received additional funding to further refine the plan to evacuate the planet – or at least selected members of the planet.”

Leblanc cleared his throat. He saw the look of disbelief and skepticism on Solomon and knew that he had the same look only hours ago. “I know that this is hard to fathom, it was for me too, but that being said, if it can work, it’s the only chance that we have as a species to survive.”

“What about trying to stop the reaction? We just can’t up and leave! And go where? Six billion plus people are not going be able to hop on a bus and just take off to the stars ya-know!” Solomon was livid. In all his life he had not heard such a story. He was sure that Leblanc had lost his mind.

“The exodus is obviously not an overnight thing. There’s years of work ahead to get to a point that will give us a fighting chance, but we do have a head start. This will come as a shock, but some of the ships have already been built, and tested.”

That stopped Solomon as he was about to interject. Somehow it didn’t come as a total surprise to him that some of these ships existed, knowing about all the reports of mystery planes in the sky over remote desert air bases. Leblanc went on, “We will continue to find out how and why this happened. The full scientific and financial weight of every major country is already being mobilized to try and answer the question of why, but no one that I’ve spoken to at our lab, NASA or the European Union thinks we’ll have the power to stop it, and then reverse the process even if we’re able to ascertain the cause. As far as the six billion people…”

Leblanc paused, swallowing hard. “It’s been decided that…” He stopped again, his voice showing strain. “That in the time we have we will only have enough ships and space for sixty to seventy million people.”

Solomon did not speak, the silence becoming almost painful for Leblanc as he waited for a response. Any response would be good right now. He was beginning to think Solomon was suffering a stroke, or gone into a catatonic shock.

After a time Solomon did say something. “Only enough ships for sixty to seventy million? Is that all we can save of the Human race? Out of six billion people? Who gets to play God?”

Questions and more questions with no answers in site. Solomon stood and began to walk along the pathway. His thoughts were ripping apart at the seams as disjointed images began to swirl around in his mind. Images of the sun ripping itself apart and coming back together seemed to be in an endless loop while the sky above turned the color of blood and then faded to nothing. An inky blackness that exploded into more nothing. Flashes of light mixed with images of his family and friends winked on and off as he continued to walk.

Leblanc followed closely but gave his friend room and time to think. Solomon was in a fragile state, and Leblanc did not want to push him further. Solomon’s faith in Humanity, science and his God was being tested right now in a battle that raged in his mind and played out in reality of life and the current crisis. It was anyone’s guess what the outcome would be.

Leblanc had held back and had not elaborated to Solomon that the actions to save Humankind were already unfolding. NASA and their operations team had activated Operation Exodus on the orders of the President. The existing fifteen ships were being readied, and construction on the remainder already begun. As for playing God, that would be left up to a committee formed through the auspices of the Security Council in the United Nations.

The developing plan is to hold a lottery in every country but only those selected would be told, and only just at the last minute. This was to try and avoid mass panic and disrupt the exodus. A few lucky ones would be selected on skills, education, and experience – they would be guaranteed a slot. Everyone would have to have a willingness to leave behind a past with no assurance of a future. Certain death in exchange for the strong possibility of death. What a hell of a choice thought Leblanc.

Solomon’s pace was slow, almost meandering. He stopped and quietly turned to see Leblanc standing just behind him. “Someone once said that the past is all we have. That people remember you for your past deeds, not your future work.”

“I know – it was you that always said it.” Leblanc said softly.

“I guess without a race to remember our past we end up with no future. I’m sorry, I’ve been too self absorbed and letting my personal feelings and emotions cloud my ability to accept the reality. You’re right of course, we need to plan for the only option Humans have for the survival of the species.”

“Your reaction is not unique my friend, we’re all going through it.”

“OK, what’s next then?”

Leblanc outlined the plan in greater detail, leaving out the parts he felt might push Solomon over the edge. When he was finished, he felt reassured that Solomon would be on board and all right. Having a purpose and roll in the project would keep Solomon focused and in touch with the here and now. He also felt better going over the Operation Exodus protocol with someone else. Talking about it allowed him to vet the plan in his own mind.

After they finished, Leblanc shook Solomon’s hand. “I’m off to New York this evening to meet with the operations team. They’ve asked for my expertise in stellar cartography and navigation.”

“Thanks again for understanding. I’m sorry for my outburst earlier. But you will have my full cooperation and support.”

“We’re all going to need as much help as we can get. I also have some jobs for you if you’re up to it.”

Solomon agreed to help out in whatever way he could and after being given a quick overview, the two men parted. Leblanc headed out of the park to hail a taxi. He was still worried about Solomon, but could do nothing more to help him cope.

At the same time he knew that Solomon would be OK in the long run and he would give one hundred percent of himself toward the effort.

The birds continued their dance, singing to each other as they soared through the sky. Two squirrels with long bushy tails chased each other up one tree, jumped the short distance to another then down again. Children could be heard in the distant play area and the light breeze brought along the sweet smell of nature, and life.

Solomon leaned against the railing beside the canal with his hands clasped. He closed his eyes and thought to a distant time when people were oblivious to the realities of the world around them.

“Not now, no longer are we so naive and complacent about our world. It is a pity.” He spoke to the birds, and trees and wind. Nobody was in earshot of his lament.

“We’re sentenced to die the day we’re born – And that day is upon us all.” He rose up, opened his eyes to look into the sky. “Why God did you allow this to happen? Why condemn the whole planet?”

He knew there would be no answer. “At least we’ll survive as a species, and that should be something.”

Turning, he started to walk back to his car thinking, there is much work to do, and so little time to do it.


Chapter One

 

The small scout ship hung in the vacuum of space, its dark grey composite alloy skin reflecting little of the light from the distant star it orbited. With its main engines shut down, and navigation lights turned off, the HSS Vanguard appeared lifeless.  The solar system it orbited was void of life, only one gas giant, a cloud of interstellar matter and a debris field of failed planet formation existed for light years around.

The ship was far from being lifeless however. Inside a small crew of eighteen men and women silently tended to vital systems and long-range sensor equipment, watching for any movement or indication their enemies were close by.

The only sound came from the vents and a dull, almost inaudible vibration from the power plant.

The Vanguard had been on station for the past three weeks with no sign of an intrusion in their sector. The normal routine was broken only by the monotony.

At last the artificial intelligence that coordinated the automated systems and computers came to life. “CONTACT – BLUE SECTOR – ONE-SEVEN-SEVEN BY EIGHT-ONE-SEVEN BY THREE-THREE-NINE.”

“Lieutenant, can we confirm source?” asked Captain Kodiak.

The galley like bridge was tight but efficient. Nine workstations lined the port side leaving a walkway along the starboard hull wall. The captain sat facing forward on a slightly raised platform, able to see over and down the line of stations. Flat monitors built into the hull lined the port side at each station, the captain having access to three monitors on swing arms reaching down from, and above the command chair.

At the sensor station, Lieutenant Hakim was already pulling the data up on his monitor. The long-range sensors were at the limit of its operable range but Hakim was one of the best sensor officers in the recon force. If there was anything there he would find it.

“It’s faint Captain, but there is a definite contact. AI predicts a cruiser and I concur.”

“It’s good to know you’re in agreement with the computers.” He smiled. “Communications – Relay to fleet the contact and location.”

“Aye Sir.” Ensign Daly said as he keyed in the data to transmit. After several minutes came a reply, “Captain, message from fleet. ‘End exercise – Well done Vanguard. Return to base’. Message ends sir.”

“Acknowledge the order. Thank you ladies and gentlemen, that, I think breaks the record set last month by the Sprit. Navigation, set course for home, helm, take us out to three million kilometers before we jump. I want to be well out of the debris field first.”

Everybody on the bridge revealed smiles at the announcement of the end of training exercises. It was always hard being away from home, family and friends. The Vanguard had been out for a total of four weeks on this exercise, three of them running silent. It was tough to relax fully on the small scout and recon ships.

“I’ll be down in engineering giving everyone else the good news.” Kodiak could have used the ship wide intercom but he was close to his crew and liked to give good news in person whenever possible.

He pressed the retract switch for his monitors as he stood and they silently slid out of the way. Kodiak pulled down his tunic and was about to step through the bridge hatch.

“Captain!” Called Robert Daly from the communications station, curiosity breaking through is normally calm manner.

Kodiak stopped and turned to face the young officer. “Yes Ensign.”

“Sir – Is there a second exercise planned?”

“No – why? What do you have?” He saw the intense stare on the Ensign’s face.

“Well, I’m not sure exactly. It’s a signal, but I can’t identify it.”

Kodiak walked back to the communications station. The other bridge crew stopped whatever they were doing, looking instead over to Daly’s station.

“What’s the source direction?”

“I can’t pin it down to an exact point, it’s degraded too much so the source direction is spread out on a very wide plane. It’s also on an old style carrier wave we haven’t used for over two hundred years. There’s nothing in the database for me to get a point of reference.” He looked up to the Captain in hopes Kodiak would have an answer.

Kodiak wasn’t sure what to make of it. Contacts like this were not rare or extraordinary, with several coming each standard week while a ship was out. They were normally attributed to cosmic background radiation, planetary communication, or echoes of previous ship traffic.

The Vanguard was not scanning in the frequency range for background radiation however, and there were no habitable planets within scan range. As for previous ship traffic, there had been none in the past week or any residual readings prior to the Vanguard arriving on station. These facts caused some concern for the captain.

Daly attempted to fine-tune its reception and was not having much luck. “Captain, I can’t give an exact fix on direction better than just an educated guess. But I can give you a range estimate from the AI. In looking at the data however, I don’t put much stock in it. The numbers don’t make much sense and signal degradation may be throwing the AI off.”

“OK Daly, best possible guess – what do you think it is?”

“I’m not sure what, but I, the AI, would estimate the distance in time at eight thousand light years – sector zero zero one. Or at least in that general direction, but that range could be off by – who knows how many light years. And anything coming from zero zero one has to be suspect.”

Kodiak straightened, not realizing how bent over he was. His lower back creaked and his head was beginning to throb. “What about content? Can we – by that I mean you – break down the signals content?”

Daly grinned at the complement. “I can try – but as I said, we haven’t used that type of carrier wave in over two hundred standard years. Also, if it’s not Human, I may not be able to decode it, and the signal itself …”

Kodiak interrupted, “OK, OK Daly, I get it.” He smiled, “It’ll take time and no guarantees. Record the signal in main memory and get started on it. In the mean time let’s get ourselves back home.”

Kodiak was now more than curious, he was intrigued. He had never seen a signal like this in his ten years of military service and the fantastic notion of an alien race trying to communicate was compelling. It would be good for his career to be part of the discovery team. At least that’s the dreamer in him, the more pragmatic side of him said it could be any number of natural sources.

He stepped through the hatch on his way to engineering. First things first, he thought. The crew will be happy to be going home.

—-

“Captain, signal from orbital dock control. We have clearance to dock at platform one-four-seven.”

“My complements to docking control. Helm, take us in – maneuvering thrusters only.”

“Aye – maneuvering thrusters only.”

The bridge of the Vanguard was busy with activity as everyone cleaned up their stations. Daly placed a number of data storage chips in his tunic pocket as he prepared his station for stand down. He was disappointed he wasn’t able to decipher the mystery signal, but at the same time he didn’t think he would have been able to on board the scout ship. He knew someone in the computer department at the university however and he planned to recruit her assistance.

Before that happened he had to clear it with the captain, he motioned for Kodiak to come over to his station where he quietly asked, “Captain, about my request for outside help?”

“No problem, go ahead and get the help you need, but keep it between us. I’ll let the crew know.”

Kodiak went back to the command chair and switched on the ship wide intercom. “Attention all hands, this is Captain Kodiak. You all know about our mystery signal and we’ve all speculated about what it might be – and what we want it to be.”

Someone on the bridge quickly said out loud, “Little green Amazonian women!” Everyone broke out laughing. Even Kodiak cracked a smile before continuing.

“In the interest of our reputations and the good of the service, I want you to keep this quiet. Speak to no one about it and if for any reason you’re asked about it, you deny any knowledge of it. This also means no discussions with family or friends. Daly will continue to work on it and will be enlisting the aid of a computer specialist friend at the university – who Mister Daly will also ensure her confidently.”

Daly nodded agreement to that last comment.

Everybody else would be on side with keeping news of the signal quiet. No one wanted to be ridiculed and no one wanted to have their careers placed in jeopardy for something they weren’t sure what is was in the first place.

Daly had to be discrete in making his inquires. He wasn’t sure if his friend would help, but he had to try.

The crew completed the docking maneuver and after getting clearance from docking control powered down the ship main engines and switched over to the space stations power. Outside, in the vacuum of space, the boarding gantry extended silently from the stations’ docking clamps to mate with the mid-ship hatch.

Daly was anxious to disembark and catch the next shuttle down to the planet so he finished closing down his station and helped store crew kit quickly. Once Kodiak gave the final stand down Daly was at the head of the line to leave.

The gantry pressurized and the hatch cycled open. A brief rush of air from the pressurizing process met the crew as the door opened.

Crew members disembarking the ship used overhead grab bars to transition from the artificial gravity of the ship to the zero gravity of the gantry tube. Gliding hand over hand they made their way along

Kodiak was always the last of the crew to leave, partly by tradition and partly because he just wanted to make sure that everything was in order before closing the hatch. By the time he stepped on the station, he noted that Daly had already caught a shuttle dirt side.

—-

Daly used the shuttle’s comm to contact his friend as soon as he was onboard the shuttle, so he knew she would be waiting for him. He relaxed now and took a moment to glance out the view port to his left. The green oceans of the planet Hope were sprawled out below, occasionally covered by bits of white clouds that were pushed along predictable currents of winds.

Hope was the first settled Human colony after the mad rush to abandon Earth. And its name, while not grand or original, gave the Human survivors something to look forward to.

Hope was smaller than Earth with a diameter of just under ten thousand kilometers to Earths twelve thousand plus; but with an equivalent land size land mass coving about fifty percent of the surface, with the ocean filling in the balance.

The green colored ocean glistened and added to the lush vegetation, gave the planet the appearance of a large emerald floating in space. The rays of the sun reflecting off the daytime side of Hope only added to the intense beauty, giving it a kind of sparkle as the sun reflected off the ocean.

It was home to Daly and he welcomed getting back to visit.

As soon as the sleek flat bodied civilian shuttle landed, he checked in with the local authorities and jumped on the mag-lift light rail line, riding the train directly to the university.

The ride was smooth and quiet, with few passengers on board. The mag-lift arrived at Daly’s stop after the two hour ride and Daly stepped onto the platform.

The train station was right in the middle of the campus so he didn’t have far to walk, and it was a nice day to be outside. After being onboard a space ship breathing air that was recycled several times over, fresh air was a wonderful change.

The computer lab, his destination, was in one of the older buildings. Constructed of natural locally found materials, stone and woods, it also incorporated more modern composite substances.

He climbed the six short steps to the main entrance and walked up to the large double doors. The built in biometric sensors reacted to his presence once he reached the landing and they opened, allowing him to enter.

Daly knew his friend’s office was near the back of the building so he continued to walk down the long but amply spaced and well decorated corridor. Images of current and past professors lined the walls on either side, interrupted only by the odd e-notice board scrolling messages for students and staff. Large potted plants in ornate cast stands dotted the corridor with the occasional chair and side table.

Several off the doors along the hall were opened, allowing Daly a quick peep of labs, administration offices and classrooms. Almost all of them were empty, with only the occasional student or professor either completing last minuet work or packing up. The majority of students and faculty were on vacation at this time.

“Good afternoon Admiral.” The greeting startled Daly as he neared the end of the hallway, just in front of the computer lab.

Turning, “I hate it when you sneak up on me like that. And its Ensign, I don’t make admiral for another month.”

He opened his arms and the two friends hugged. It was a familiar and comfortable embrace between two long time friends.

“How’ve you been Meghan?”

“Not bad, considering you’re the one with the glamour job.” She teased.

“I wouldn’t call it a glamour job. Although it does beat a desk job opening correspondences.”

“True. So, from your message earlier I take it you have some data for me to look at?”

He smiled. Daly reached into his tunic pocket and removed the data chip containing the signal, handing it to her. “Always getting straight to the point, eh.” He said, then continued, “I’m sorry that it’s not much, I didn’t have time to pick up any flowers.” It was his turn to tease as the two walked toward her lab and office.

Since the university was almost empty during the mid-semester break, Daly wondered why Meghan was still ‘in school’. “Why are you still hanging around here anyway? I thought I would have to get in touch with you at the lake house.”

“I’m in the middle of a research project and with almost everyone away, it was a good time to book lab space.”

They arrived at her office and entered. “We can access the main computer from my office. The lab is a bit of a mess right now. I have my graduate students pulling fiber and reconfiguring one of the test labs for an experiment so there’s not much room. If our experiments work out, we can stop laying kilometers of fiber cable just to have inter-connectivity between our computer systems but maintain security net.” Meghan beamed.

Meghan’s office was small but comfortable. A desk, bookshelf, three chairs and a computer access terminal were all the furniture in the room. Three of the walls were lined with old style magnetic display boards covered in hand written notes and mathematical formulas as well as some symbols and notations in a code Daly did not recognize. It was all well organized and clean.

“This is neat and tidy, I’m shocked.” Said Daly with a surprised grin.

“I just had the cleaners in. After all, I had to have the place ready for the admiral.”

She inserted the data chip into the terminal access port and typed in her password. The screen lit up and quickly prompted her for another password to access the file.

Meghan turned her head, “What’s with the secrecy?”

“Type in MYSTERY for the password – you’ll see why in a minute.”

She did and after a brief moment the signal Daly and the sensors on the HSS Vanguard detected appeared on her screen.

On the left of the split screen was a graphical representation of the signal, on the right the sensor logs and codes. Meghan took only a second to examine the signal and logs before standing and walking away.

This caught Daly by surprise. “What? What’s the matter?”

She stopped and turned, “This is a joke – right? Robert Daly, if this is some sort of a joke it’s not funny. I will bring this up to the highest authority in the service.”

Stunned at Meghan’s response to the data on the screen, it took Daly a second to regain his composure. “What the hell are you going on about? This isn’t a joke Meghan – This is the signal we picked up.”

Meghan sat down behind he desk, her mouth wide open, as if she was about to say something and lost her ability to voice the words. She looked from Daly then back to the screen.

Finally she spoke, “Does anyone else know about this?”

He shook his head no, and then added, “Only my captain and the crew of the Vanguard, but no one will talk to anyone about it; we’re under Captains orders. Why? Meghan, what’s the signal?”

“You know my last name is Leblanc.”

Daly nodded, still unsure as to what Meghan was getting at.

“My great grandfather was Terrance Leblanc.”

All of a sudden Daly’s blank and confused look turned into one of enlightenment. Everyone on the settled Human worlds knew about Terrance Leblanc, Alexander Falardeau and Francis Solomon. They, and their teams, were revered as the saviors of the Human race by developing and leading the Exodus Project.

Daly said softly, “You recognize the signal, don’t you?” There was a part of him that did not want to know the truth. His mind conjured up on nightmare scenario after another in seconds.

“I know it.” Meghan answered with a slight tremor in her voice.

“It’s like seeing a ghost, and I think I must be.” Now there was fear. Fear in her words and in her eyes.

“My whole family knows that signal. It’s human, and it’s from Earth.”

“That’s impossible.” Cried Daly. “Earth is gone, and has been for generations. This must be an echo that’s just reaching us now. And from the distance it would have to travel, that would make more sense.”

Meghan, her head cradled in her hands, slowly shook her head and said, “It’s not an echo. Check the time stamp on the originator.”

“Where do I look?”

She rose and walked back over to where Daly sat beside the terminal. She typed in a command to the computer, she wanted to have it decode the signal so Daly and anyone else, could see the same thing she did. She wanted to share the fear she had.

More data quickly scrolled down the screen then stopped. “There – see the time stamp?” Meghan pointed to the upper right side of the screen. “This signal is no older than sixty-five standard year’s relative time. The computer can’t identify the content because it’s in a code we don’t have the key for. But its origin is Earth and the base code and carrier wave is Human. It’s the same one my great grandfather used during the Exodus.”

She quietly went back to her desk trying to contemplate the possibilities. Everyone knew Earth was gone, but here it is, a signal seemingly coming from Earth.

The shit gone’a hit the fan, she thought. Without knowing it, Daly, leaning back in his chair, echoed her sentiment.

 

– TO BE CONTINUED –

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  1. […] the Prolog and Chapter One of Home World, a new science fiction novel by William DeSouza. Home World is the first book of a two book […]

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