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Two hundred thousand kilometres out from Earth, the Elysian was underway and ready to begin the main phase of her voyage. The supplies were stowed, the extensive array of equipment, components and machinery were secured in place and all of the crew were now safely preserved in cryonic suspension pods. All except for him that was. As commander of the vessel, Christopher Sergov would be the last person to go into suspension.
Over three decades of manned, deep space exploration, it had become a tradition for the commander to be the final one. He or she would check that the vessel was secure and that everything was functioning correctly and then when everything was ready for the voyage, he or she would put themselves into cryonic suspension and the flight computer would commence the many months of full thrust from the ion drive propulsion system.
Christopher, or Chris as he preferred to be called, was a fraction under two metres tall with very short, neat, light-brown hair. His skin was paler than might be expected with his dark brown eyes. He was of athletic build and fairly average-looking, clean-shaven, no features out of the ordinary apart from a subtle scar, barely two centimetres long, on the left side of his throat. It had been inflicted by a fencing accident in college years before and, in a quiet sort of way, he was quite proud of it. He felt it was about the only part of his appearance that was a little distinguished.
He had the computer running one final check of all the ship’s systems when the incoming transmission light began to urgently blink for his attention.
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The first of five colonisation vessels, the Elysian was two and a half thousand tonnes of metal accelerating rapidly away from Earth and like its four sister ships in the program, it was designed purely for the outward trip. It would, assuming all went to plan, make a safe landing on its destination planet and then would never fly again.
Its immense engines, whilst capable of high thrust for months on end, were not powerful enough to lift the vessel’s huge weight from a planet’s surface and anyway there would not be sufficient fuel left to allow an onward or return journey.
The vessel was purely a one-way transport, created for the sole purpose of getting her enormous cargo of supplies, equipment and frozen humans from Earth orbit to a planet unimaginatively named Proxima 3, in orbit around Proxima Centauri, a dwarf star in the Alpha Centauri system. Her main role was to protect her precious cargo during the journey of over forty trillion kilometres (twenty-five trillion miles).
As the journey was going to take more than thirteen years (Actually closer to twelve years and three months for those on the vessel due to the effects of time dilation caused by the vessel’s enormous velocity) to complete, it was impossible, from the supply point of view, for even a single human being to remain awake for the duration of the trip. Therefore, the vessel was equipped with a highly sophisticated and intelligent computer system fully capable of expertly navigating the vessel and charged with the task of protecting the eighty humans sleeping dreamlessly within it.
- - -
“Sir, we have an incoming communication from C.P.C.,” chimed the female voice of the computer. “Would you like to receive it? It is a class one coded transmission tagged for your eyes only.”
As Colonisation Program Control had already completed the goodbye handshake and handed full control over to the flight computer, he was not expecting any further communication until the other end of their voyage.
“Yeah, put it through. Must be important if they’re beaming it this far into space.”
The Elysian had left Space Station Exodus almost five days before and was already at almost one-twentieth of a percent of its cruising velocity. Once it reached its cruising speed it would be travelling at three-hundred-and-twenty-four million kilometres per hour, approximately one-third of the speed of light.
The screen nearest to Christopher faded quickly into life, displaying a serious-looking man dressed in the distinctive, light-grey uniform of the Colonisation Program.
“Mission Commander Sergov?”
“Yeah, that’s me,” replied Chris, slightly pleased that this would delay his imminent freezing.
“I know this isn’t usual procedure, but something important has come up and I think you need to know about it before you go into cryo. We’ve met before, months ago, but I doubt you remember me; I’m Dirk Baxter, chief of security for the Colonisation Program.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I remember you,” Chris smiled.
“Good. As you are probably already fully aware, apart from vetting the entrants to the Colonisation Program, I also keep an eye on any organised threats to the program as a whole.”
“I know. So, what’s up?” asked Chris suspiciously. He did remember Dirk, if only because there was something about him he did not much like. He always felt that Dirk never relaxed and was always assessing everyone he met, like some robot which understood the meaning of even the smallest human reaction but did not use those reactions himself. It was difficult to like someone who constantly scrutinised your every reaction.
“That’s part of the problem. We don’t know for sure, we just know something is going to happen, most likely something damaging to your mission. Have you heard of the organisation Holy Earth?”
“Who hasn’t? They’re in the news all the time,” replied Chris. “A religious faction, strongly suspected of terrorism as far as I know, but no-one’s proved that. They’ve got some belief about God not intending mankind to stray beyond Earth. Their political wing lobbies for the colonisation and exploration programs to be terminated.”