'It's still pretty dark for this time of morning,' thought Alfonzo Rennes. 'Maybe God is giving us the benefit of darkness as cover for our activities during this crucial time.'
Alfonzo looked down from the sky to the valley floor. The view was as awe inspiring as the coming dawn would be. He saw thousands of people from ten of the nations in South America queuing up to board the world’s first generation ship.
“It’s amazing that the Americanos haven’t caught on to the game,” said a voice from behind him.
Alfonzo, somewhat startled, turned to watch Enrique Ruiz approach the top of the cliff where he was standing. Wagging his finger at the chief scientist of the Mariposa project, he said, “Don’t sneak up on me, I almost fell off of the cliff.”
Enrique laughed at the elected civilian leader of the expedition. He said, “Good thing that you didn’t, we might have had to delay the launch if you had, and it’s such a perfect day to do this.”
Both men turned to watch the activity going on below. Alfonzo finally broke the silence, saying, “Any activity from the Americanos? Or maybe los Rusos?”
Enrique shook his head. “I think that they are too busy spying on each other to watch the activities of some poor South American countries.”
Alfonzo laughed and replied, “God willing.” The United States had announced a similar project to the one going on below a year after the South Americans had started their generation ship. Russia soon after announced the same thing and threatened to destroy any other ship they discovered leaving Earth’s orbit. The South American coalition never announced their intentions and worked very hard to keep their activities a secret.
He looked at the sky again, as if searching for satellites aiming their cameras at the valley they were standing above. He looked at his longtime friend and said, “They do seem intent on destroying each other, don’t they?”
Solemnly, Enrique nodded. Russia was leading the world in anti-American propaganda and activity. The two superpowers weren’t at war, yet, but they did come close when America invaded Iran to prevent a hostile government from obtaining nuclear weapons two years ago. “And if they do, they will take the world with them. All the more reason for us to reach our goal here.”
Alfonzo nodded too, and said, “Yes, Russia seems intent on blocking American diplomatic efforts to oppose unfriendly governments.”
Russia was sending oil and food to any government that America had an embargo against. North Korea was on the verge of collapse when Russia broke the embargo in response to America’s invasion of Iran. Since then, every time America took a hard line against a nation, Russia was quick to intervene on their behalf. The United Nations had turned into an ineffectual organization pretty quickly since Russia and the United States couldn’t agree on anything.
An odd sound broke Alfonzo’s reverie. Enrique and Alfonzo looked at each other in horror as they recognized the sound of an airplane engine coming from the north. Alfonzo pulled the radio from his belt and spoke into it, “Santiago, talk to me.”
The voice of the radar man came back to Alfonzo and Enrique, saying, “Sir, we just got a contact on radar. It’s flying very low and is very small. I’m guessing that it’s an unmanned recon airplane.”
“Mierda,” Alfonzo swore. Into the radio, he said, “Santiago, shoot it down.”
“Sí, jefe,” was the immediate response.
Enrique asked, “Are you sure that is the best course of action?”
Alfonzo nodded and said, “Yes, they must have some suspicions already, whoever it is. The less they actually know, the better.”
The two men watched as a missile came out of the jungle to the north of the valley. A moment later there was an explosion a couple of miles further north.
Alfonzo said into the radio, “Santiago?”
“We got it, sir. I don’t think that it was in visual range.”
Alfonzo looked down into the valley, then at his friend and said, “We had better step up our preparations.” The two men turned and ran down the path they had come up.
A few minutes later, they entered the command center. Alfonzo asked, “Santiago, any other contacts?”
The man quickly scanned the instruments he was monitoring and replied, “No, sir.”
Alfonzo turned to another man with headphones on his head and said, “Domingo, anything on the radio?”
The man shook his head. He said, “Nope. We’ve been monitoring most of the military frequencies of Colombia and Venezuela, but if it was American or Russian, I don’t think that we would get anything.”
Venezuela was an open ally of Russia and Colombia was a reluctant, yet accommodating ally of the United States. Neither country was represented in this cooperative effort of the other South American countries because of those alliances.
Alfonzo went outside with Enrique in tow. He quietly said, “Go down to the ship and tell the leaders that we need to move up our schedule. Tell them to move the people faster.” He paused, trying to think of anything that he might have missed. He said, “It’s a good thing that all of the supplies are already on board.”
Enrique nodded and headed down to the boarding area. Alfonzo returned to the command center.
The next few hours were at the same time hectic and uneventful. The boarding process was going smoothly and faster than anticipated. There weren’t any more radar contacts or radio noise.
At about the time that the last hundred or so passengers were boarding, Alfonzo was starting to consider doing the same when Domingo suddenly perked up. Alfonzo hurried over to the radioman and asked, “What’s going on?”
He held up a finger and Alfonzo impatiently waited. A moment later, Domingo said, “Sir, we have activity on the Venezuelan border. Brazilian aircraft have intercepted a squadron of Venezuelan aircraft that crossed the border heading in our direction. Both sides have sent more aircraft into the fray and there are reports of Russian planes joining the Venezuelans, though this has not been confirmed.”
Alfonzo looked worriedly at the boarding area. There were at least one hundred people still to board. “I’m beginning the countdown,” he finally said. He walked up to a console in the front of the center and stuck a key in a recess and turned it. A display above the viewport came down and started a one hour countdown.
Santiago stood up and said, “Good luck, sir. We’ll keep you apprised of the situation on the border.”
Alfonzo waved to him on his way out the door to show he heard and ran down to the boarding area. He saw Enrique talking to an engineer and ran to him. “I’ve begun the countdown. We need to get these people on the ship now!”
Enrique’s eyes went wide and he replied, “You’ll have to tell me all about it later. Let’s get these people moving.”
After a lot of yelling and hurried activity, the passengers were all aboard and seated in around forty-five minutes. Alfonzo ran up flight after flight of stairs to the bridge of the ship. He took his seat next to Enrique, who must have just beaten him there. “So much for the ceremony,” he said. “How much time is left?”
“Just under ten minutes. The crew is making the final checks,” Enrique replied.
Just then the radio that Alfonzo was still wearing squawked. Alfonzo picked it up and said, “This is Alfonzo.”
It was Santiago’s voice on the other side that said, “Sir, we’ve got incoming. It’s a mix of Venezuelan and Russian aircraft. They are twelve minutes out. We’ve got aircraft coming from Bolivia and Peru, but they are almost twenty minutes out.”
Alfonzo looked a question at Enrique, who shrugged and said, “They might be able to get some missiles to hit us still, or maybe not. I just don’t know.”
Alfonzo said into the radio, “Thank you, Santiago. Prepare what defenses we have. We launch in about nine minutes.”
“Acknowledged, sir. Buena suerte,” Santiago said.
Now that everyone was aboard and the enemy was approaching, the countdown couldn’t go fast enough. After what seemed to be hours, but the timer insisted was eight minutes, the final minute of the countdown began. Alfonzo could feel the engines below the ship and attached to the sides begin their warm-up. The whole ship began to vibrate.
The man at the helm, Alfonzo couldn’t remember his name, said, “Sir, we have a visual on the approaching aircraft.”
Alfonzo grimaced and replied, “Put it on the viewscreen.”
The image that appeared was of half a dozen tiny dots just above the horizon. “Zoom it in,” Alfonzo said.
The man replied, “That is maximum zoom, sir.”
Alfonzo sighed in relief as he watched the countdown approach ten seconds. The airplanes didn’t seem any closer as the engines began pushing the ship skyward. Alfonzo’s weight was pushed into his chair as he watched several objects separate from the aircraft on the screen.
“Missiles,” Enrique groaned from his chair.
Alfonzo tried to nod, but couldn’t. Instead, he said, “They must be firing from extremely long range. Let’s hope that it doesn’t do them any good.”
After another eternity, the helmsman had to switch cameras to continue to watch the approach of the missiles and enemy aircraft. Right after he did so, Alfonzo saw that they had launched another salvo at the ascending spacecraft.
Alfonzo searched the screen for the first group of missiles, but couldn’t find them on the screen. Through the immense gravity pulling him down, he managed to ask, “Where are the first missiles?”
The helmsman replied, “I’m not reading them on radar. Before I changed the camera they were approaching our wake. I wonder if they burned up in there.”
Alfonzo asked, “Enrique, what do you think?”
He could sense his friends mental shrug as he replied, “That’s pretty likely. It’s also just as likely that we’re moving faster than the missiles already and they just ran out of fuel. They were fired from extremely long range.”
After another couple of moments that camera angle didn’t register the aircraft anymore. The helmsman punched some more keys on his console and the camera angle changed again. He continued to press some keys and the whole ship vibrated. The camera picked up the booster rockets falling back to Earth.
“I think that we’re in the clear from airplane based attack,” Enrique said.
Alfonzo asked, “What dangers remain?”
Enrique replied, “The Russians and Americans have satellites equipped with anti-ICBM missiles. They could probably shoot at us too. Or, they could try to launch an ICBM itself at us.”
Alfonzo gulped and said, “They wouldn’t be that crazy, would they?”
Enrique chuckled, “Their people just shot a couple of dozen missiles at us. They obviously weren’t joking about destroying any attempts to beat them to creating a ship like this.”
Alfonzo replied, “Okay, then. Can they catch us?”
Enrique managed a small shrug and said, “Their satellites are ahead of us, but they would have to be in position already. I don’t know if they would have had enough time to do that. Their ICBMs could also catch us for a while before we get out of range.”
Alfonzo sighed. The launch was successful, so far, even if it went in a few hours before it was planned to. Why did the Russians and their Venezuelan lapdogs have to discover their launch site today of all days? Why couldn’t they wait until the coalition governments publically announced it tonight?
Alfonzo was shaken from his reverie by his sudden weightlessness. He glanced about and Enrique laughed at him. “Daydreaming?” his friend asked him.
“I guess so,” Alfonzo said sheepishly. He looked at the helmsman for a moment trying to remember the man’s name. Ah, Diaz, that was it. “Diaz, what’s our status?”
The helmsman replied, “We’ve expended our launch fuel, sir. I’ve ejected the external fuel tank.” Diaz pressed some keys on his console and studied it for a moment, he said, “We’re on course to rendezvous with the moon in twenty-four hours.”
Alfonzo nodded to himself and said, “Any contacts on radar?”
The helmsman shook his head. Not far away, another man said, “Sir?”
Alfonzo looked over to him and said, “Yes, Muñoz, is there activity on the radio?”
Muñoz nodded and replied, “Yes, sir. We’ve got a message from launch command and some news stories that you might be interested in.”
Alfonzo was curious about the news stories, but he said, “Tell me the message from launch command.”
Muñoz, looking somewhat downtrodden, replied, “Much of the launch facility was destroyed by the aircraft. They took heavy casualties.” He paused, then brightened a little as he said, “The Peruvian aircraft destroyed all of the hostiles when they arrived.”
Alfonzo mournfully nodded and said, “Tell me about the news stories.”
Muñoz pointed to the screen and said, “May I?” After Alfonzo nodded to him he pressed some buttons on his console. On the screen appeared the images of the presidents of the ten coalition nations responsible for the ship that they were all sitting on. The president of Brazil stepped forward to the podium and spoke. He said, “Today marks a great day in human history. The first intersolar colonists have just left the Earth for a far away star on the first complete generation ship to leave this planet. While we celebrate this great accomplishment, it has been blighted by a brash and reckless attempt to destroy the ship as it left the Earth.”
The president paused, sternly looking at the camera, he continued, “Russia and Venezuela, in a cooperative effort, launched an airborne attack against the launch site and the ship itself as it was ascending to the stars. This attack was thwarted by the Brazilian, Peruvian and Bolivian air forces, but not without loss of life. Many of the people who worked hard to bring this monumental achievement to fruition were needlessly killed by an overbearing nation of bullies and their South American puppets.”
He paused again and glanced at the other leaders with him before continuing. “We condemn the actions of these two nations as acts of war, but we will not sink to their level. We ask that they pay reparations to the families of those who lost their lives today in order to avoid a war that nobody wants.”
The image returned to a view of the moon. Alfonzo took a moment to grieve for the friends that he lost today. He said, “Muñoz, is there anything else?”
The man nodded and said, “Yes, the Americans have issued a statement congratulating us on our accomplishment and also condemning the actions of the Venezuelans and Russians. Their statement says that they will stand with us until the issue is resolved. The Russians categorically deny any involvement and Venezuela is quiet about the matter.”
Just then, the door to the bridge opened and Alfonzo’s son and wife came through. Maria, his wife, looked haggard while Francisco was apparently having the time of his life. Maria said, “Your son just couldn’t wait to see you. When are you going to make this thing have gravity again?”
Alfonzo laughed and replied, “I had totally forgotten about that in all of the tension.”
Maria looked a question at him and he said, “I’ll tell you later. Enrique, let’s make some gravity.”
Enrique typed some commands into the console next to him. “Ready,” he said.
Alfonzo pressed a key on his command console and said, “Attention, all passengers. We will be turning the gravity on in thirty seconds. That should be enough time for you all to find something to hold on to.” He turned off the intercom and glanced at his watch. At the appropriate moment he signaled Enrique.
The scientist turned to his console and typed a few last commands. Everyone on the bridge felt the gravity slowly kick in as the outer hull of the ship began to rotate around the inner hull.
Alfonzo said, “Diaz, let’s take a look at Earth.”
The helmsman nodded and punched the keys on his console. The Earth appeared on the screen. It still occupied most of it.
Francisco looked up at the screen and said, “Daddy, will the Earth miss us?”
Alfonzo chuckled and tousled the boy’s hair. He said, “Yes, I’m sure it will. But, do not worry, mi hijo. Our descendants will one day come back here and the Earth will welcome them with open arms.”