Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
Proxima Centauri is a low mass star that is part of the southern Centaurus Constellation. The star is 4.24 light-years away from earth. If you had a powerful enough laser, it would take the beam of light 4.24 years to get to the star. When you look up at the star, you are actually perceiving it as it was 4 years ago. The current fastest moving object, made by man, is the original Voyager probe. It is traveling over 35000 miles per hour, and even at such an extreme velocity, it would take thousands of years to reach the star. The only practical way to get there is via faster than light travel, or FTL for short. According to Einstein, a fundamental rule of the universe is nothing but light itself can go that fast. The year was 2037, and that was the year we broke that rule. But at what cost?
My name is James Anderson. I have been in the air force for 15 years and it’s always been said I was the best man they ever had. 2 years ago I got an invitation from NASA to take part in a “groundbreaking project.” NASA was always a dream of mine. As a boy, I had always dressed up as an astronaut for Halloween and read basically all the books on them, and the history of spaceflight. Joining the Air Force was the next best thing and I ended up enjoying it a lot. I was stationed at Edwards Airforce Base as a test pilot for experimental fighters.
The director of the project went by the name of Dr. Robert Butler. Robert was a tall, ginger man with a brain that would make even Einstein envious. Robert was the person who personally invited me to partake in his project. I accepted almost instantly when he called, and we set up a meeting to discuss details. The meeting place was a nondescript office building in the middle of Bethesda, MD. Robert’s office was probably the cleanest room I had ever been in. He had a huge mahogany desk with a computer monitor that spanned almost half the desk on the corner. Behind him was a bookshelf full of books and miniature model aircraft. A pleasant autumn aroma filled the air from the incense he had burning on the other side of the room. Robert sat me down with a handshake and started.
“Hello James, thank you for meeting with me today.”
“Thank you for having me. I’m excited to explore the opportunities in front of me.” I responded, eagerly.
“Let’s get the formalities out of the way so we can get down to business. I need you to sign a non-disclosure agreement as this project is classified top secret.” He continued.
Robert slid me a thick document. As I suspected, it was the aforementioned agreement. I had signed thousands of these in the past, so I knew the drill. It basically said that if you discussed the project with anyone outside its scope, it was considered treason. I promptly signed the document with the expensive fountain pen he had on his desk half expecting him to leap out of his seat, telling me it was a display piece only. He didn’t. Passing the document back to him, and returning the pen. I thanked him and asked.
“So, what is this groundbreaking project you speak about?”
“Are you familiar with the theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre?” Robert asked with a curious expression.
“I have read about him. He theorized a way to travel faster than light, but that theory was disproved a long time ago.” I retorted
Robert sat back in his chair and went on.
“What if I told you, we recently revised his work and put it into practice.”
Another question popped into my head.
“Miguel’s FTL engine required significant power to function. Nothing in the world can create that much energy.”
“Yes, James, legitimate question. The scientists at the CERN Large Hadron Collider have been able to find a way to produce large amounts of antimatter. We have produced enough for a trip to Proxima Centauri and back with a little extra.” He answered.
“So, you’ve built a ship?” I asked
“Yes! We’re calling it the Trieste, after the submersible piloted by Jacques Piccard that dove into the deepest depths of the ocean. It seemed the most appropriate.” Robert replied
I was humbled to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. I would have a chance to shape the future of mankind and affect many generations ahead of me. My heart started beating rapidly as I inquired.
“How fast does it go?”
“According to our calculations, the Triest has a max velocity of 32.47x the speed of light. And you’re going to be her pilot.” He answered as if waiting for this question the whole time.
Before I could ask the date of the flight, he handed me a contract that outlined the whole project. Upon signing the contract, Robert set me up with living accommodations and held out his hand. I shook it. and left to move into the apartment he provided for me.
After I settled in for a week, Robert invited me back to a spacious conference room to meet the others who would join me on the pioneering flight. Robert called 4 people into a line, each at the top of their respective fields and eager to change history.
The first I was introduced to was Engineer, Dr. Praveena Cooke. Praveena designed and helped construct the reactor and FTL drive. She was a shorter woman, maybe just over 5 feet with long dark hair, in her 30s. What she lacks in height, she makes up for in intelligence. The next person I was introduced to was Dr. Haruto Moon. Dr. Moon was a medical doctor. He was tall, with short hair and a suit. Haruto was recently in the running to become surgeon general, so NASA jumped at the opportunity to invite him. Then I met the chief scientist, Dr. Elizabeth Murphy. Elizabeth was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever set my eyes upon. Her eyes were like diamonds. My gaze was transfixed on her smiling face before the man next to her cleared his throat. I snapped out of it and shook her hand, and his.
The man was the commanding officer of the Trieste, Col. Edward Thompson. Thompson didn’t look anything like the Colonels I’ve worked with over the years. He was short and thin, so not very intimidating. I showed him proper respect nonetheless. Before our handshake was finished he leaned down to my ear and whispered.
“I saw how you looked at Elizabeth. That’s not what this mission is about, so if you would kindly keep your dick in your pants this will all go ever so smoothly.”
I nodded before joining him in the line. Robert handed us each a glass of champagne and gave a toast.
“To new horizons…”
We all clinked our glasses and socialized.
The next day was orientation. We all met in the same conference room. It was that day I finally got to see the Trieste. Although it was only a render on the wall, it looked like I was looking at the real thing. At the front of the craft was a large spherical command structure, probably where we controlled everything. also inside the sphere. Behind the sphere was what looked like a communications array. Then there was the reactor sandwiched between two vast rings. The rings were the main component of the FTL drive. Behind that, at the direct aft of the ship, were the main engines for standard propulsion. Flanking the reactor were two cylindrical tanks for the fuel.
One had antimatter, and the other tank contained matter. Those two substances emit vast amounts of energy when combined. The reactor controlled that and converted it to energy.
Robert began by explaining why he chose Proxima Centauri.
“As you may already know, Proxima Centauri is the closest star to Earth other than the Sun. This makes it an excellent candidate for this project. That’s not the only reason we chose it though. For a little over 40 years, that star has been emitting bursts of ultra-high energy radio waves. When analyzed, the signal is random in nature. Basically bursts of static.”
“Don’t stars emit all kinds of waves?” I questioned.
“Yes, James you are correct. The remarkable thing about these ones is they happen every hour on the dot. If that wasn’t strange enough, every burst is completely identical.” He continued
The room fell silent as everyone was in a state of shock. Robert chuckled.
“That was my exact reaction. Your task is to travel to the star and use the equipment you bring along to study it and find out what causes the signals.”
I smiled when I saw the joy on Elizabeth’s face. Stars were her area of study. Robert began answering more questions we had. Some important particulars stood out to me. The Triest is still under construction in orbit, it will take 1.5 months to reach the star at max speed, and we are scheduled to depart in 1 year after vigorous training. Our orientation ended and I went home.
NASA put my body to its extreme upper limit over that year. I had never been tested like that, not even during my time in the air force. In one of the simulations, they put me in a chair attached to a spinner that spun incredibly fast to simulate G-Forces. Another time I was put in a chamber for several hours under high atmospheric pressure to see how I responded to the change. After many tests like this, my shipmates and I were ready to go.
The launch day had arrived. This was a top-secret mission, so the trip to the Soyuz rocket that would take us up was oddly void of reporters. I didn’t have anyone to say bye to which was one of the reasons I was selected, as there was every chance the ship could just explode. The Soyuz rumbled to life as it violently carried us up. I had never been so uncomfortable in such a comfortable seat. Eventually, the rumbling stopped and I felt without weight. Moments later, Elizabeth screamed with excitement.
I watched out the window. Before me was the Trieste in all her magnificence. It was surrounded by the scaffolding used to help in the construction. The capsule docked with the ship and we boarded.
Before I was the command center and the finest technology that humanity had to offer. At the front was a single grand console, my console, used for navigation. The ship oddly had gravity, although I didn’t know how it worked. I hiked across the spacious room to my console, so I could examine it. To my left was a small joystick like you’d find on an arcade cabinet. It was used to control the reaction control thrusters that steered the ship. There was a camera system there, so I could see where we were going. Directly in front of me was an extensive celestial map, so I could see where we were and plot courses. Overlaying the map, where the controls for the FTL drive, which were simple. Praveena handled the complicated aspects naturally. Finally, to my right was a simple throttle for the main engines and a multi-function display for factors like power levels and velocity. Col. Thomas shouted.
“Alright everyone to your stations!”
Praveena and Elizabeth took to their stations on either side of me. Elizabeth’s station slowed full access to the full suite of sensors and scanners installed on the ship. They allowed her to study the star. I don’t know how to explain Praveena’s console. as it was too complex for me. my job at that moment, was to make sure that the navigation system was aligned and the engines were ready to fire, so we could head out. We spent a couple hours preparing as the scaffolding around the ship was taken away. Robert called over the radio.
“Alright, everything looks good from our end. Proceed whenever you’re ready.”
“Thank you, Robert. We will contact you when we are in position to go light-speed.” Replied the Colonel.
“James. Take us out.” He ordered.
I tapped on my console, firing up the engines and the ship gained speed. We could not perceive it due to artificial gravity. The ship needed to be far from the earth in case of disaster. If the ship were to go up it would be equivalent to 500 megatons of TNT. The engines were incredibly powerful. On one camera it gave me a view behind the ship, and the earth was visibly getting smaller. Eventually, we got out of range. I cut the engines and let the Trieste Coast.
“We are in position sir,” I informed Thomas
He relayed the information to control.
“This is it people. Charge the rings, James.” He instructed.
I started the charge sequence and the ship began to hum as the rings roared to life. Looking at the readout, it read 2 minutes to charge.
“2 minutes to charge!” I shouted excitedly.
There was an atmosphere of anxiety and excitement. Nobody there wasn’t worried. My panel turned green as the coils finished charging. The Colonel knew this and had a seat. After the click from his harness, he addressed the crew.
“Whatever happens, you all have done this country proud. James! Engage!”
I had the biggest smile on my face as I nodded, and did as instructed. We heard a loud burst of energy. Colors dazzled our eyes as we gazed out the front window. What followed was an unnerving silence. I came to my senses and studied the panel in front of me.
“Holding steady at 24.5c! We are stable!” I exclaimed
A wave of relief washed over all of us before we started celebrating. What I saw out the window is hard to explain. It was like we were flying through a blue tunnel of light. Praveena promptly checked the drive for any issues. She found none.
We all congregated in the mess area for a meal while Dr. Moon examined himself and the rest of us for any negative effects of our transition to light-speed. To his amazement, we all looked perfectly healthy. Dinner was disgusting freeze-dried chicken, or what looked like chicken and tasted like rubber. Despite the horrible cuisine, we were all happy as could be. To us at the time, we just made history. It was the life goal of every human being. We were proud.
Soon it was time to sleep for the long trip. Thompson ushered the crew into the sleeping chamber, and we each got into our respective pods. The pods were programmed to wake us up 5 hours before we reached Proxima Centauri. Praveena checked over the systems methodically before getting into her pod. She didn’t want there to be any problems while we were sound asleep. As my pod closed, I felt claustrophobic before gently drifting into a deep slumber.
I awoke seemingly minutes later to a blinding light. Dr. Moon and Elizabeth with those beautiful eyes were standing above me. She smiled saying.
“We’re here James”
I slowly sat up and got out of my pod. The other two crewmates were awake as well. Dr. Moon gave me a pill to help me recover from the extended rest, and I got out of my pod. Thomas asked me where we were. The trudge to my console was a little awkward as it felt like I was learning to walk for the first time again. The console read an ETA of 4h13m53s. I turned to Dr. Moon.
“I thought we were supposed to wake at 5 hours, not 4 and a quarter.”
“You’re right. We had a little trouble with your pod. It wouldn’t open.” He replied with a concerned expression.
The crew and I spent the remaining 4 hours checking systems and getting food in our bodies. It was fish this time, equally rubbery as the chicken. Eventually, it came time to shut down the drive as we had arrived. I shut it down and the ship came to a stop. There was a blinding light out the window. I was looking at another star. It just sunk in, the gravity of what we had just accomplished. I don’t think I was the only one with that feeling. Thompson shouted an instruction.
“Bring us into orbit of the star James”
With a permanent smile on my face, I acknowledged and used my console to fire up the engines and put us into orbit.
“Are we able to filter out all the blinding light? Thompson asked unanimously.
Elizabeth spoke up
“The window has one. I’ll activate it.”
My heart hit the deck plating with an audible thud when she activated the filter I observed the star being covered in green, vine-like structures. It almost seemed organic. Proxima Centauri looked alive. It was visibly throbbing. I was visibly terrified at the sight.
“What the hell! That’s not what a star is supposed to look like.” Thompson said, shocked.
Elizabeth tapped her panel with determination. She concluded that with Spectrographic Analysis, the star was indeed organic. There was nothing in her analysis that pointed to it being a star of any classification, other than the blinding light that it emitted. How could we not have seen this without instruments on earth? I concluded it was somehow able to trick them from that vast distance. Elizabeth noted with a puzzled expression.
“I don’t understand how this is possible.”
“How long until the next radio burst?” Thomas asked.
“5 minutes.” She replied as she checked her panel.
As we waited, I was a nervous wreck. 5 minutes came and went. The radio pulse came and went as well. I felt a slight tingling sensation, but it was harmless. We were monitoring the signal and it was the same as previously recorded pulses according to Elizabeth.
“What do you make of all this Dr. Moon?” The Colonel asked, without diverting his gaze.
Moon didn’t respond. I could hear soft, high-pitched wheezing coming from his direction. The Colonel noticed too and turned around. Dr. Moon was completely motionless. Assuming he was just daydreaming, Thompson shouted.
What happened next was the most disturbing, frightening thing I’ve ever witnessed. That’s saying something coming from a soldier like myself.
Moon started convulsing violently before slowly changing into…something. His arms, his legs, his fingers, his toes, his neck, all grew to double their length. Sharp teeth descended from his gums, and existing teeth broke into sharp points. His jaw disconnected from his skull, giving him a gaping, terrifying maw. One of the panels behind him gave me a reflected view of his back. His back split apart, exposing his spine with each vertebrae having long jagged spikes protruding from like them a dinosaur. The same sort of spikes were also protruding from all joints of his body. His skin turned a dark green color and was now ripped, exposing bone and a powerful muscular structure. There was nothing recognizable left.
I sprinted at Elizabeth and grabbed her arm as we raced to safety. Praveena followed, but Col. Thomas, rest his soul, wasn’t so lucky. Moon, or what we thought was Moon, lunged at him with a high-pitched unnatural screech, thrusting both arms into the Colonel’s chest aided by the spikes that grew on the knuckles. Thomas didn’t make a sound, just went limp, with his arms dangling below him. His motionless body was lifted off the ground. I winced with horror. There was an explosion of blood and gore as the creature separated its arms, ripping already deceased Col. Thomas in half. His blood-soaked insides were scattered all over the room. In all my years of military service, I’d never seen anything even remotely more disturbing.
With no time to mourn our fallen comrade, we moved into the mess and closed the door, locking it. The two girls were sobbing. None of us wanted to talk about just happened, or what caused it. Praveena noted, still sobbing.
“We need to kill it!”
Nobody ever guessed to pack weapons on this ship as it was a mission of exploration and this occurrence would never show up in any manual.
The three of us collected ourselves and I cracked open the door. Moon was pacing the room and noticed me. He produced another loud screech and charged me. I got back inside just in time, and he started banging on the door relentlessly.
“Try and find something I can use as a weapon,” I said frantically.
“We may not need one. The main airlock is the room with it. There is a console in the communications room opposite this door that can open it.” Praveena said, still shaken with fear.
I opened the door and the creature was in the middle of the room, standing above the colonel as if it was admiring its latest kill. I threw a piece of metal past it, and the creature jumped at where it hit the ground. I gathered up all the strength and determination I could muster and bolted for the communications room door. The creature saw me and got within inches, but I made it and sealed the door behind me. Moon, as if he knew what was about to happen, pounded much louder than before, almost desperate. I used the auxiliary console to increase the pressure and blow out the airlock. the environment outside the door sounded like a wind tunnel. The pounding ceased. I could hear it frantically claw at the ground before a loud puff sound as it flew out helplessly.
I re-sealed the airlock and pressurized it. Upon opening the door, both the creature and the Colonel were gone, with deep claw marks in the ground and around the airlock. To my horror, I looked up and it had completely trashed the command deck. All the consoles were destroyed with no way to use them. We were dead in the water with no way to control the ship. I called the girls out as it was safe. They both took on my shocked face when presented with the carnage.
“Can we activate the drive from the reactor room?” I asked Praveena.
“Yes, but we would have no navigational control,” she replied skeptically.
With haste, we made our way to the reactor control room. The room was dissimilar from the rest of the ship. It had an industrial design. Praveena did her magic to try and charge the rings before another burst. There was no way to know which one of us would change into that, thing. Her fingers tapped away at an inhuman pace. She froze.
“No, no no no!” Praveena screamed.
“What!” Elizabeth and I responded in unison.
“The Rings aren’t charging. The creature must’ve hit one when he flew out of the airlock.” She said with a defeated look on her face.
I felt as if the entire universe was trying to kill us. The three of us went to a window. We were shocked to discover that there was a deep gash on the side of one of the rings. That meant the only chance we had was the main engines. We could get far enough away and try to fix the rings with a spacewalk. We had no way of knowing how far the pulse had an effect and wasted no time starting them up from the reactor room. Praveena put all available power through the engines, including the power from life support. 30 minutes later we were going fast enough that I could perceive the organic star drifting away slowly. There were 15 minutes until the next burst.
The three of us took shelter with nothing left to do and separated ourselves with doors between us, just in case we were not far enough away from the star. The engines were still going. We were keeping in constant contact using the internal com system. Elizabeth monitored for the burst. The three of us had never been so scared in our lives, as we now knew what was potentially about to happen. Our fate was inevitable. The burst came and went. The two started sobbing again. As far as I could tell at the moment, we were all safe. I broke down with relief as it was one issue we no longer had to deal with. One of them stopped crying.
“Elizabeth?” I called out.
“I’m here James, I’m here” Elizabeth cried.
That same screech came out of the speakers. It was so loud, my eardrums were in searing pain. I called for Praveena. It was already too late for her. She was in the Pod room. Elizabeth was the only thing on my mind at that time. I had a clear path to get to her. She was in the Communications room. I went over and joined her there. We had an hour left. The two of us knew, there was no chance of repairing the ring without Praveena. Praveena started pounding on her door as the transformation was complete.
I am writing this from that room with Elizabeth. I don’t know if my story will reach Earth. Even if it did, it would be too late for us as it takes a whole 4 years with light-speed communications. We are just too far away. Praveena just busted out of the pod room. She knows where we are and has started trying to do the same to this door. I don’t know how long we have left. I don’t know what will get us first: Praveena, or the next burst. All I know is, We don’t want to die in either fashion. I’m contemplating evacuating the air from this room. Elizabeth agreed and started sobbing uncontrollably. I am embracing her with one arm and writing this with the other.
The air is getting thin. Humans can survive about six minutes without oxygen. It is an agonizing death, but it is far better than the alternative. I do not regret going on this mission, neither does Elizabeth. We are fortunate to make our world proud. If you are reading this message, please stay away from Proxima Centauri. It is not what it seems. . The room is now completely void of oxygen. Elizabeth has gone unconscious. I am devastated but I know I won’t be that way for much longer. Only one thing left to do. Send.
Credit : MrMcMuffinJr
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