Chapter 2 - First Contact
Earth - 2008
Bill Weller is 46 years old and has worked at Kennedy Space Center for 24 years, having been hired by NASA upon graduation from Georgia Tech with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Since graduation, he has earned his MBA from the University of Central Florida.
Bill was plunged into the Space Shuttle program in 1984 as a systems engineer in the firing room, first on the graveyard shift, then moving quickly to the Lead Engineer position in the shuttle electrical power system as his knowledge of the system grew. After three years in that position, he became a Project Engineer overseeing all the systems engineers. Four years after that, he became a NASA Test Director.
The Shuttle Program is winding down, the International Space Station is well underway, and Bill is getting restless for new challenges. He married his wife, Molly, in 1986, after they met on a business trip to California. They have twin boys, David and Doug, age 22, and a daughter, Kelli, age 20. All three are attending MIT on scholarships David working toward his Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering, Doug toward his BS in Aerospace Engineering, and Kelli working toward her BS in Physics. They apparently got their love of science from their father. Molly is a degreed Registered Nurse with extensive experience in hospital nursing, but has worked in school health for the last 12 years.
It is after midnight as Bill leaves the Launch Control Center. There is a shuttle launch in two days and now that he is the Lead NASA Test Director, he feels he must work late in order to stay on top of the current problem that may delay the launch. There is a hydrogen leak in the aft compartment, which engineers have been unable to isolate.
Bill and Molly live in a large house on four acres west of Melbourne. As he turns off the main road onto the long driveway leading to the house, a voice comes out of nowhere.
"Bill Weller. May I speak to you?" The radio in the car was not on, so Bill was baffled and did not answer.
"Mr. Weller. May I speak to you?" The voice rang out again, seeming to fill the car.
Stopping the car, Bill said, "Who is this?"
"My name is Capt. Kroy and I would like to speak to you about something very important to you and your family," the voice said, a little softer this time.
"Who are you and how are you talking to me?"
"I am speaking to you through the small device on your passenger's seat."
Bill turned on the interior light and saw the slender blue device. It looked very much like a cell phone, but had only one blue button and a large display that was currently dark.
Without touching the thing, Bill said, "How did that get in my car?"
"I will answer all your questions in time. Right now, I would ask for your patience and for your willingness to talk. For now, we can talk via this communicator. But in the future, I would need to speak to you in person. And I believe that if you hear me out, you will want to meet with me."
"Who ARE you?" Bill demanded.
"Mr. Weller, I have been studying you for several months, and have learned that you are an open-minded individual. However, what I want to discuss with you will challenge your sensibilities, your belief system, and your idea of where the Earth fits in the scheme of reality."
"What did you say your name was again?"
"Well, Capt. Kroy, once again, who are you and how did this...communicator get in my car?"
"Very well. I am the Captain of a starship presently in orbit 18,000 kilometers above the Earth. We have been in orbit observing your planet, you and many others, by various means, for over two years. And to use terminology familiar to you, I 'beamed' the communicator into your car just minutes ago." Kroy thought those facts were enough to give Bill something to think about.
Bill's mind was racing. He was confused, apprehensive, and very skeptical. But at the same time, excited by the remote possibility that what this voice, this Capt. Kroy was saying was true. Finally able to speak, Bill said, "You're pulling my leg, right?"
"That is such an interesting expression. No, I assure you I am not 'pulling your leg.' I am speaking the truth and would welcome the opportunity to prove it. Is that something you would be interested in?" Capt. Kroy had just maneuvered Bill into thinking about meeting face-to-face.
"Wait. Wait. I'm still processing 'starship', 'observing us for two year', and 'I beamed the communicator.' This all sounds like a big practical joke to me."
"I assure you it is not, and a face-to-face meeting will answer many of your questions."
"Well...Capt. Kroy, it's late and I need to think about all this." Bill didn't really believe a word of this. He just wanted to end the conversation.
"I understand. Just press the button on the communicator to end this transmission. Press it again when you are ready to talk. I have adjusted my schedule to your 24-hour day, so you may contact me any time tomorrow."
"Yes. I might do that."
"Until tomorrow then."
Bill picked up the communicator and pressed the small blue button, which then turned black. Upon closer inspection of the communicator, Bill discovered another small button beside the other one, this one labeled, 'Video.' He could only imagine what that button would do. Maybe it would allow him to see this Capt. Kroy. That possibility was both exciting and scary.
Bill sat in his car for a long time replaying the last few minutes in his head. "Did this really happen? Did I really hear what I think I heard? Is it really possible that what this guy said is true?" The communicator was certainly real and it looked like no cell phone he had ever seen before. It was roughly half the size of an iPhone , but thinner, very light and shiny, but had a rubbery feel along the edges, making it easy to hold. And it had no external plugs or connection points that he could see. He was tempted to push the button again and call this Capt. Kroy just as a test.
But that could wait. He was very tired, hungry, and wanted to share this with Molly. Bill already could guess her reaction. She was not as open-minded about extra-terrestrial life as he was, so she would be a good sounding board with whom to discuss this.
Bill and Molly were up 'til 3:00 AM. He was right about her reaction. She was full of skepticism, but had to admit that the communicator looked a little strange. She also knew him very well and did not think he had imagined the whole thing. So, they agreed to sleep on it and talk about it again tomorrow night. Bill did not sleep at all and neither did Molly.
When Bill arrived at work around 7:15 AM, he was glad to hear that during the night the source of the hydrogen leak had been found and that repairs were in work. Bill tried to concentrate on his job all day, but had little success. He was pre-occupied with Capt. Kroy, the communicator, and the conversation last night. "What if all this really is legit? The world would change over night!" And the one burning question Bill had was, "Why is he contacting me?" And another thing, "Is he in contact with others? Listen to me! I'm thinking like it's all true!"
Bill arrived at home around 6:00 PM, just a few minutes after Molly. They prepared a salad and talked while they ate.
"Did you get a change to think about all this today?" Bill asked. He could tell by the furrows in her brow that she had been thinking about it a lot.
"I couldn't think about much else."
"Me neither. At least the hydrogen leak was found, so that won't be a worry anymore."
After what seemed like several minutes, Molly said, "Are you planning to contact him?"
"I don't see how it could hurt. And it will certainly prove that someone is on the other end. Whether or not he's extra-terrestrial is another question."
"What about his wanting to meet with you? How would you handle that?"
"Clearly a meeting would answer hundreds of questions. But I want him to come here. I am not going to his...starship! This whole thing is probably crap anyway. I don't know why I'm talking like there IS a starship!"
"Let's just take it one step at a time. Call him first. Then decide about a meeting. Let's not think or speculate beyond that." Molly really had a clear head about all this.
"What would I do without your advice, Babe?" Bill said, taking her hand in his. "I'll call after dinner."
Molly was sitting nearby when Bill pushed the button on the communicator. It was 7:27 PM.
There was a small click. "Hello, Mr. Weller. I'm glad you have called me back."
"Well, you're welcome. I guess. My wife, Molly, is here with me. Is that OK?"
"Of course. She will be affected by these proceedings as well. As a matter of fact, she will be very important to you and to your future, should things work out the way I hope."
"First of all, what is this Video button?" Bill asked tentatively.
"Come now, Mr. Weller. Do I really need to answer that?" Capt. Kroy was being coy.
"No, I suppose not. Should I push it now?"
"Sure, if you wish."
"Will I be surprised?" Bill asked, not sure if he was prepared for the answer.
"I think you will be surprised that I don't look that much differently than you."
Bill pushed the Video button and instantly the display lit up with the full color image of Capt. Kroy head and shoulders only. Bill was just a little startled, not really knowing what he had expected.
Kroy, the first alien Bill had ever seen, had a smooth hairless head with what appeared to be blood vessels evident under the skin, which was slightly blue in color. He had more or less 'human' facial features with two eyes and no eyelashes or eyebrows. His nose was small and in the center of his face and his ears were set tightly against his head, one on each side. His mouth was also small, but the lips were pronounced compared to his other features.
"Hello, Mr. Weller. How nice to see you," the alien said with some kind of mild accent Bill had not noticed before.
"Hi," Bill said, transfixed with the sight of his first alien.
"I hope my appearance meets with your approval."
Molly crept closer to Bill to take a look.
"Hello, Molly Weller. It is nice to meet you for the first time, as well."
Startled, Molly jumped back to her end of the sofa.
"Don't be afraid. I assure you I don't bite."
This made all three of them laugh, and the ice was broken.
"Capt. Kroy, I have more questions than you can possibly imagine and I don't know where to begin."
"Well, Bill. May I call you Bill?"
"Bill, I and my crew of about 15,000 citizens, are from a planet we call Belarius on the far side of the galaxy. My starship and almost 500 like her, have been searching the galaxy for over 800 of your years. Our goal is...was to find benevolent, intelligent life capable of space flight. We think we have found that life here on Earth. But, I am getting ahead of myself."
Bill had not heard a word after '15,000 citizens.' He interrupted, "Hold on a minute. Did you say 15,000 citizens? Just how big is your starship?"
"All of our starships are roughly 16 kilometers in diameter, spherical, and at one time had a population of 50,000 each."
Bill could not get his head around a space ship 16 kilometers in diameter. That's 10 miles! Bill said, "You have raised even more questions than I already had."
"I fully understand, Bill. Many of your questions can be answered when you visit my ship."
"Hold on. I am not ready for that yet. Can we meet here?"
"Of course. When would you like to meet?"
Bill looked over at Molly. He could tell they were going to have to talk about that.
Bill asked, "Will two days from now be OK? My job right now requires the majority of my time. After launch I will be free."
"I understand. We are very familiar with your job and NASA's space shuttle program. Two days from today will be fine. Of course, if the launch is delayed, we can delay our meeting."
"Apparently you are quite familiar with our space program."
"As I said, we have been studying Earth for more than two years. There isn't much we don't know about your civilization."
Bill suddenly felt uncomfortable and said, "You have me at a disadvantage. You know so much about us and we know nothing about you. How do we know you are yourselves benevolent?"
Capt. Kroy laughed, "The Belarian society has been benevolent for over a million years. If we were not benevolent, we would not have spent two years studying you and we would not select just one individual with whom to make first contact."
That answered one of Bill's questions. "I am the only person on Earth that you have contacted?"
"Yes. You and Molly."
"Why just us?" Bill questioned.
"All of this will become clear as we spend more time together. For now, may I beam down an small document we have prepared that will answer many of your questions? You and Molly can look it over at your leisure. I do not want you to feel, as you say, at a disadvantage."
"Sure. That would be great," Bill said trying to contain his excitement.
"However, I must insist on the complete and utter secrecy of everything contained in this document and more importantly, the secrecy of my appearing to you and our conversations. As I said, we have contacted only you, and for good reason. You MUST keep our existence completely secret for now. I hope this is clear. I must have your word on this."
Bill looked at Molly, "Yes, we understand. You have our word."
A document about two inches thick almost instantly appeared on the coffee table in front of them.
"Oh my God!" Bill said in his unbridled astonishment. He had just seen proof that everything Kroy said could be true. At least the technology he just witnessed could not be questioned.
"Quite a nice trick, is it not?" Capt. Kroy was relishing in the moment. He had spent his 30 years as Captain of BS-1071 planning for and daydreaming about first contact. Many Captains before him had done the same and he felt humbled by this privilege.
"So, I will await your call in two days."
"I have one quick question," Bill injected. "Where is the camera lens on this communicator?"
Kroy chuckles, "The display doubles as a wide angle lens. Yours is a basic model. We have others with more capability."
"Wow. OK. I will contact you in two day if all goes well with the launch."
"Very well. See you then." Capt. Kroy broke the connection.
Bill and Molly spent the next five hours poring through the document beamed down from Capt. Kroy. Molly was the faster reader, so she started reading while Bill made coffee.
They were up until midnight devouring every word of the document and trying to understand the illustrations. It explained where the Belarians came from, a short history of the development of their civilization, their quest to find life forms elsewhere in their solar system, and how that led to The Belarian Initiative.
Much of the document was devoted to the technical aspects and design of the starships. It was presented in a fairly non-technical way, so along with the numerous diagrams, Bill and Molly were able feel 'familiar' with the ship.
When they got to the portion of the document that dealt with the reproductive problem that had developed aboard the starships, Bill and Molly became very quiet. The plight and desperation of the Belarians was becoming clear. Even a sympathy for them was immerging.
The Belarian starships were searching for a civilization whom they could befriend and spend their last years with. It all became very clear and very sad. This highly advanced, noble civilization wanted nothing more than to be friends with the people of Earth while there was still time remaining.
The shuttle launched on time without any problems. This freed Bill of any immediate responsibilities. The next shuttle scheduled for launch had its own launch team, so Bill's team would rotate to the shuttle launch following that one. That launch was not scheduled to take place for almost 7 months, so he would have an opportunity to take a couple of weeks vacation time.
"Are you ready for this?" Bill asked Molly after breakfast.
"I guess. Should I have food or something to offer him?" Molly asked, always the perfect host...even to an alien.
"I don't know! The document says they're vegetarians. Can you fix a fruit plate?"
"Good idea. I have peaches, apples, and a banana...and some cashews."
When Molly returned from the kitchen, Bill said, "OK, are we ready now?"
Bill pressed the button on the communicator.
After a few seconds, "Good morning, Bill. Congratulations on a successful shuttle launch," Capt. Kroy said cordially. "I saw you on TV, as you call it."
"Good morning to you, Captain. And thank you. I suppose our meager shuttle launches are quite primitive to you."
"Well, yes, but reminiscent of our fledgling space efforts thousands of years ago. It has been very exciting for us to witness your space efforts first-hand."
"Capt. Kroy, Molly and I have read the document you provided and we thank you for being willing to share so much about your civilization."
"You are certainly welcome, Bill. Sharing with the people of Earth is indeed why we are here."
"Yes, we understand a lot about you now. Therefore, we would like to invite you to come here to meet with us," Bill said, not quite believing the implication of his words.
"It would be an honor, Bill...and Molly to meet with you. Is now a good time?"
"We have a saying here that...there's no time like the present," Bill said, trying to slow his heart rate with a little levity.
Kroy chuckled at that. "Yes, I have heard it. Give me a few minutes, then."
"OK. Whenever you're ready," Bill said, relieved that he had a few more minutes before the 'most momentous event in human history' took place. They were about to meet a representative of an extraterrestrial civilization. Bill and Molly looked at each other with a lot of apprehension.
Then it happened. Capt. Kroy was suddenly standing in the room, about eight feet away. He was over 6 feet tall, with two arms of slightly longer than normal length, two legs, was wearing black light-weight boots and a military-looking dark grey uniform. The upper garment, or 'shirt', had no collar, the sleeves were arms-length, and was held closed with no evidence of buttons. There were insignia on each shoulder, a gold oval device over his right breast area, and the word "KROY" stitched into the fabric over his left breast area. Next was the grey belt with no apparent closure mechanism, followed by dark grey pants reaching down to his boots. Here stood an alien who could have been a U.S. military officer.
After a short moment, he placed his hands on his thighs and bowed. "This is our standard greeting. I understand you shake hands," Kroy said as he extended his right hand toward Bill. His hand was large, had six fingers, two of which were opposing thumbs.
Bill quickly extended his hand and shook the hand of Capt. Kroy. They all three were overwhelmed by the enormity of this first contact.
Capt. Kroy immediately turned to Molly and extended his hand. She was now standing.
"It is truly a pleasure to meet you Molly. May I call you Molly?"
"Of course, Capt. Kroy. Do you have a first name or should we call you Capt. Kroy?"
"Well, that is an interesting question. Kroy IS my first name. We use only first names onboard the ship. It's a long story, so you may call me Captain, Kroy, or Captain Kroy."
"Thank you Captain," Molly said with relief. "I'd like to hear that story sometime."
"I will send you a document." Kroy said, happy to share something more of their civilization.
"That would be lovely."
As Capt. Kroy turned toward Bill, Molly said, "Captain, my I offer you something to eat? I have prepared a modest assortment of fruit and nuts."
"How nice of you to offer," Kroy said, truly gracious.
As Molly retrieved the plate from the coffee table, Kroy said, "Ah, peaches, a banana, apples, and cashews -- all among my favorite Earth offerings."
"Oh! I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you are familiar with our fruits and vegetables."
"Yes, we quite enjoy collecting the delicacies from the planets we visit."
Bill jumped in, "So you have visited many planets."
"Yes. We have visited thousands of planets, but contacted none...until now. I am sure you read about our prime objective."
"Yes, of course. Why don't we all have a seat?" Bill and Molly sat on the sofa while Capt. Kroy took the over-stuffed chair opposite them.
Kroy said, "You have a very nice home. Until now, I have only seen photos. I'm afraid our accommodations aboard ship are more functional. But, after so many hundreds of years, they seem quite normal to us."
Bill, Molly and Capt. Kroy talked for almost 4 hours. Kroy explained that the ship's Bridge was manned by nine officers at all times and that roughly 1,000 engineers and technicians worked in support roles. The remaining occupants of the ship had lives much the same as those on Earth. "We have large agricultural complexes onboard, with a food processing industry, a vast food distribution system, waste management and life support systems that must be monitored and maintained, power generation and distribution, and the list goes on. I'm sure you can appreciate the infrastructure required to sustain such a large space ship."
Bill and Molly mostly just listened while Capt. Kroy spoke of the ship, his Bridge Officers, the many planets they had briefly visited, and of the Belarian civilization. The more Kroy spoke, the closer they felt to him. They felt like they could be friends with Capt. Kroy. He was an amazingly intelligent and articulate individual.
Capt. Kroy stood to end the meeting. Bill and Molly were so enthralled with the proceedings that they didn't immediately notice when he stood up.
"Well, my friends, I believe that I have kept you long enough. You have much to consider, especially, Bill, my desire to show you my starship."
"Of course, Captain. You have explained so much and we're very grateful," Bill said as he shook hands again with Capt. Kroy. "I'm sure I speak for Molly when I say that we are overwhelmed by everything."
"I understand. When would you like to meet again?" Kroy said, hoping he wasn't being too pushy.
Bill looked at Molly, "I think tomorrow would be fine."
Molly responded, "I have to work, but you can meet without me, Honey. You SHOULD meet without me."
Bill said, "You really don't mind?"
"Not at all. Keep in mind that Capt. Kroy is here basically to meet YOU."
"Yeah, I suppose you're right."
Capt. Kroy said to Bill, "Now that that is settled, we can agree to meet again tomorrow?"
"Yes, I'll call you."
"Very good. Until tomorrow then." Capt. Kroy shook hands with Molly, pressed a button on a more advanced communicator that he retrieved from a pocket, and was gone.
Bill and Molly stood for a long moment looking at the spot where Capt. Kroy had been standing. Bill broke the silence, "Well that was certainly an experience!"
"You can say that again," Molly said, equally amazed at the 4-hour meeting.
It was 8:15 the next morning when Bill pressed the button on his communicator. "Good morning, Bill. How was the rest of your day?" Capt. Kroy quickly responded.
"Just fine. But I must admit that I am still overwhelmed with everything."
"I am sure you are. You would not be normal if you weren't."
Bill had not discussed with Molly what he had been thinking ever since their meeting with Capt. Kroy yesterday. "Capt. Kroy, I believe I'm ready to come aboard your ship." "God, I can't believe I just said that."
"Wonderful! I was hoping you were ready for your visit. Are you prepared to come aboard now?"
Bill, holding the communicator in his right hand, crossed the fingers of his left, and said, "Yes."
"Excellent. Stand by."
"Will I feel anything?" Bill said, his hands now beginning to sweat.
"No. You should not feel a thing."
Bill saw the room fade to black, then he was standing in a room with Capt. Kroy.
"Wow! That really does work!"
"Yes. Are you OK?" Capt. Kroy asked.
"I'm just fine. I'm just so amazed at the technology. On Earth we have science fiction TV programs depicting teleportation. But to actually experience it and to come to the realization that it actually exists, is a bit overwhelming."
"I am sure it is. We, of course, have been using it for millennia, so we think of it only as a tool. Come. Let's get your tour started."
Capt. Kroy led Bill through a door that opened onto the Bridge. "That was my ready room and this is the Bridge," Kroy said with what Bill recognized as great pride. Kroy had waited his whole life for what he was now beginning a guided tour of his ship with the next Captain of the starship BS-1071.
"Oh my gosh!" Bill said, unable to contain his excitement. The Bridge before him was probably 2,000 square feet of consoles on three levels descending in front of him. Nine Belarians manned many of the consoles; many were unmanned. They all stood to face the Captain when they entered. Bill and Kroy were standing at the center of the upper level of the Bridge with two additional console levels descending in front of them. There was an isle way straight ahead that led down to the bottom of the room. In the center of the second level were two chairs with armrests, to which were attached small consoles with buttons and lights, and a small flat display about eight inches across. They were dark blue and appeared to be leather-covered. The officer seated at one of the chairs, had also risen and turned to face the Captain.
The seats and consoles were facing the far wall, which was a enormous display, maybe 15 feet tall and 25 feet wide, and was currently displaying a full view of the Earth. As he was about to turn away, the view of Earth changed from Western Europe to Eastern Europe, China, and India.
Bill said, trying to contain his astonishment, "How do you manage that?"
Capt. Kroy said, "We have 5 probes in geostationary orbit, so we get 5 views of Earth."
The basic color of the room was dark blue. What appeared to be carpet on the floor was dark blue and the consoles themselves were dark blue. The ceiling was a dome, apparently back-lit with white light, making visibility on the Bridge excellent and easy on the eyes.
Each Bridge officer was wearing a dark grey uniform similar to Capt. Kroy's and each had a gold oval device over the right breast. Bill and the officers studied each other for about 10 seconds before Capt. Kroy said, "This is Bill Weller, our Earth contact."
Each officer gave Bill the customary bow as Kroy introduced each one. He didn't even try to remember their names and rank, or the Bridge stations they manned. This was information overload, but Bill tried to look calm and collected in front of these advanced extraterrestrials.
Capt. Kroy, who had failed to introduce the officer standing below them beside the 'leather' chair, now took Bill by the arm, "And this is my First Officer, Lieutenant Commander Stipz, my only female officer on this shift."
Bill knew right away that the appearance of this one was different -- same hairless head, etc., but softer features and a shorter stature. "So this is a Belarian female," Bill thought.
Cmdr. Stipz bowed then extended her hand. Bill took it saying, "Very good to meet you, Commander."
"Likewise, Mr. Weller. Welcome aboard," Stipz replied. Her voice was also softer than Kroy's and definitely female.
Capt. Kroy resumed, "Now, let's move on. There's a big ship I want you to see." There seemed to be two exits from the Bridge, one on either side of the top level of consoles. They chose the one on the left. As they walked past the consoles, Bill tried without success to recognize anything displayed.
They were soon walking down a wide corridor with doors on each side about 20 feet apart. Capt. Kroy said, "This is a big ship, so when it was designed, it was most important to keep the different personnel, the disciplines and different support departments, etc. consolidated. Otherwise, much time would be wasted moving around the ship. All of the Bridge Officers have their living quarters here, near the Bridge. My quarters are off the ready room, which is where you came aboard."
"So everyone is close to work."
"Exactly. This ship is larger than a large Earth town. People can live their lives, do their jobs, and never even see most of the ship, and many do not care to. I am sure you have not seen every corner of Melbourne. It is much the same way here. Everyone lives near their work place and all the shopping they need is nearby. Each level of the ship has a number of decks and each level has shops, a large park, recreational facilities, public transportation, etc. Each level is like a small town."
"Amazing and practical," Bill said, truly amazed.
Bill noticed that about every 60 feet or so, a display screen was mounted to the wall, each showing the same view of Earth. Along the bottom of each was a row of what appeared to be virtual buttons.
Capt. Kroy stopped at the nearest display. "These are multi-function displays," he said and pressed a button, all of which had labels in a language Bill did not recognize.
Kroy continued when the display changed to what looked like an organization chart, "From any communications display, one can speak directly to any department on the ship. This display is for Command & Control, but from the buttons across the bottom, I can select any location or ship's level." He pressed another button, which changed the display, then pressed one of the boxes on the screen, and immediately the display changed to show a man working in what appeared to be a lab.
"Good morning, Dr. Solic. How are the soil sample tests coming?"
"We finished last night, Captain."
"Dr. Solic, I would like to introduce you to Bill Weller, our Earth contact."
Dr. Solic facial expression changed to what Bill interpreted as surprise. "Mr. Weller, I am so glad to meet you and look forward to working with you."
Capt. Kroy cringed internally, thinking, "Solic may have just let the cat out of the bag."
"Glad to meet you as well, Dr. Solic," Bill managed to say before turning to stare at Kroy.
Kroy quickly canceled the display, which returned to a view of the Earth, and said, "We are in the process of converting all nomenclature on the consoles, displays, and elsewhere to English."
"Capt. Kroy, what did he mean when he said he looked forward to working with me?"
Capt. Kroy hesitated a moment before answering, "Well, Bill, I will explain that to your total satisfaction later, but I would like to finish our tour first."
"Maybe I would enjoy the tour more if I knew what he meant!" Bill said, not to be dissuaded.
"Very well. Let's go to the Officers Lounge," Kroy said as he led Bill down the hallway.
The hallway was making a long curve to the right, which made Bill wonder if the hallway curved all the way around to terminate back at the exit door on the right side of the Bridge. Kroy stopped at a door on the left, which opened when he pressed a button beside it. As they entered, Bill could see that this was a lounge with chairs, sofas, maybe a dozen round tables with four chairs each. Down the left-hand side was what appeared to be a small cafeteria line with steam rising from the different selections. Maybe 12-15 people were in the room, some eating, others talking.
Before Bill could complete his observation of the room, Capt. Kroy said loudly, "May we have the lounge please!" It was not a request.
Kroy followed the last person to the door and pressed a button nearby. "We will have privacy here now. Would you be interested in something to eat or drink?"
"No thanks. I'm fine for now."
"Well, I would love a cup of tobin," Kroy said as he walked away toward the cafeteria line.
This gave Bill an opportunity to soak in more of the room. All of the seating was covered in the same leather-like material as the chairs on the Bridge and felt very soft to the touch. The floor was not carpeted, but was covered with material that was hard to describe. It was not tile, or vinyl, or wood, and felt padded under his feet. It was light blue with a pleasing pattern running throughout.
Capt. Kroy was returning, "This is tobin, our equivalent to your coffee, which I have tried and don't like. Sorry." Kroy took a seat at the nearest table. Bill took the seat across from him.
"Coffee is an acquired taste and very good if prepared correctly," Bill said with pride. "Why do I feel defensive about coffee?"
"Maybe you can prepare it correctly for me sometime."
"Its preparation is an art, actually. Molly is pretty good at it."
"Then I look forward to Molly's coffee art," Kroy said with a grinded.
"Right. Now, can we discuss my question?" Bill was ready for some answers.
"Of course." Capt. Kroy took a drink of his tobin, took a deep breath, and began.
"As you know, Bill, our mission from the very beginning, was to catalog all life in the galaxy, number one, and number two, to locate a benevolent, intelligent life form advanced at least to the point of being capable of space travel. That mission was continued for hundreds of years without ever discovering a prime objective planet. Earth, of course, has now satisfied that objective.
"But, when our reproductive problem was diagnosed, the mission was changed and accelerated. You know all this. It is in the document I provided."
Kroy stared at Bill for a long moment, then proceeded, "We are dying as a race. There are no children aboard this starship or any of the nearly 500 other starships in the fleet. In a few years there will be no more Belarians left, except of course those on our home planet. What is not spelled out directly in that document, but can be concluded by extrapolation, is that our civilization needs someone to take over our mission."
With that, Bill began to get the picture, but did not really allow himself to go there.
Kroy continued after another sip of tobin, "Bill, we want the people of Earth to continue our mission and we want you to Captain this ship."
"Oh my GOD! So that's what this is all about!" Bill's mind was racing out of control. He jumped up from his seat and walked away, rubbing his forehead with both hands. "This can't be happening! I'm no 'Captain'. He can't be serious!"
Capt. Kroy allowed Bill the time to be shocked at his last statement. Bill's was the reaction he had expected. No matter when or how he had told Bill this news, his reaction would have been the same. At least it was now out there and could be dealt with.
Bill returned to the table, "You cannot be serious! I'm not a CAPTAIN! I can't command a starship! I have a job and a family! You cannot be serious!"
"Settle down, Bill. Please." Kroy had to be patient. This was the most critical moment for the Belarian civilization in the last 800 years. If he didn't handle it correctly, all could be lost.
After a while, even though his head was still spinning, Bill sat down. "Capt. Kroy. What makes you think I can Captain this ship? I'm just an engineer! An astronaut would be a better choice! Why me?"
"Our selection committee considered many candidates, including some astronauts. But after months of deliberation, we agreed that a so-called common man, not a high-profile astronaut, would be the best choice. The committee felt that you, being very intelligent and having moved quickly to your NASA Test Director position, would be able to come onboard and learn quickly from us. From what our studies have shown, astronauts are over-achievers with strong personalities and would want to make their own rules and procedures. The rules, guidelines, and procedures we have in place have served us well for eight centuries. No, you are our choice."
"But this is a huge, highly advanced ship full of technology I will never understand." Bill had settled down, but was now exasperated and still full of questions.
"Yes it is. But you don't have to understand it. I have been Captain for 30 years and I don't understand all the technology. I don't have to. I just need to use it. I have others who understand it. How many people on Earth understand how a car works? Not many I would guess. They just drive them every day."
Bill was not surprised by that argument. "I understand that, but this is different. This is a, by god, starship!"
Capt. Kroy studied Bill for a few moments. "You really do underestimate your potential, Bill. I believe we may know you better than you know yourself. You can become the Captain of this starship! You will have years to train before you are required to take command. You can pick your own crew, people you know and trust. You will all be trained here onboard by my officers. We will go on short one-month to one-year training sorties. We have passive training devices to assist you. And I am going nowhere until you are ready."
"And when I am ready, where do you go?" Bill's thoughts were becoming clearer.
"During your training, you will be my assistant. You will shadow me in everything I do; ask all the questions you want; seek out any of my officers or anyone else you want to help you. Then when I think you are ready and when you agree, you will become the Captain of BS-1071 and I will become your advisor. I will be here for as long as you require...within reason. I can't be your safety net forever."
"And then...?" Bill thought he knew the answer.
"There are roughly 15,000 citizens remaining aboard the ship. We and our ancestors have spent our lives on this sterile starship. We would like nothing more than to spend what little of our lives that remain, on a nice warm planet, sit with the sun on our faces, enjoy the local cuisine, and someday pass on when our time comes. We would like to live our final days on Earth." Kroy was surprised by Bill's response.
"That would be wonderful. I'm sure Earth will be honored to accept you." Bill was envisioning the many Heads of State clamoring to meet and host the Belarians. Then again, maybe he was being naοve.
"I hope you are right. Time will tell."
There was a long silence as they each were lost in thought.
"Bill, you need to go home and discuss all of this with Molly. She will be with you onboard if you accept my proposal."
"Would you like to complete your tour of the ship now?"
"Yes, very much so."
They left the lounge and proceeded a little further down the curved corridor. As they turned left into a large hallway, Capt. Kroy said, "We're directly behind the Bridge now. This corridor leads to the transportation portals.
About 10 yards down, the corridor opened up to what looked like a subway terminal, only this one had tracks with portals leading off in six different directions. The tracks all extended into the terminal and each track was covered with a glass dome. Bill could tell that each track curved downward beyond the portals. On the far left and far right were escalators.
Capt. Kroy said, "From here we can pick up a car that can take us to other parts of the ship. On other levels are terminals for obtaining transportation to all parts of the ship. Our system of transportation is like your subway systems, only we invented them over 3,000 years ago." They paused for Bill to look around and walk over to an escalator. It moved swiftly and terminated maybe 30 feet below.
Kroy continued, "I obviously cannot show you everything today, but I do want you to see the warp drive."
Bill said, "And the escalators?"
"The 'escalators' as you call them, are for local traffic between decks on this Level."
Kroy led Bill to the glass dome in the center of the terminal where a car was conveniently waiting. As they approached the dome, a glass door slid open and they entered the car, which looked like it could seat about 20 people. Bill and Kroy sat down on the front row of the car. On the right arm of each seat was a small keypad. Kroy punch a couple of keys on his. After the door closed, the car moved swiftly through the portal. Bill did not detect any vibration, but only the smoothest of movement. As the car continued to descent at an ever-steeper angle, their seats rotated backward.
"These cars move on the magnetic levitation principle. I believe you refer to it as MAGLEV. This particular line will take us toward the center of the ship. Along the way we will see one of our agriculture complexes and other forms of ground transportation."
After about a minute of descending through the dimly-lit tunnel, the tunnel was suddenly left behind and Bill could see that the car was riding atop a monorail, apparently supported by piers underneath. But Bill instantly forgot about that, for ahead of him stretched an agriculture complex, the likes of which he could never have imagined. As best he could tell, they were roughly in the center of the vast complex with its rows of vegetables running off for miles in every direction. The ceiling of this complex was probably 60 feet high.
"What is the size of this place?" Bill said, not able to hide his astonishment.
Capt. Kroy said, "This complex is about 8 kilometers in diameter. This is one of four on the ship. It is on these farms that all our food is produced."
"And there are three more like this?"
"Yes. Each produces a different variety of fruits and vegetables. If you've not noticed, everything is grown aeroponically without soil just a water mist. This makes it possible for computers to control all the nutrients and water, and crop rotation is not necessary. Not only that, but soil contains diseases and GMO contamination we don't want. Even the lighting is controlled. Currently, this is the only complex in operation, since our population is down to 15,000 from a normal high of 50,000. The other three complexes have been shut down, so this one has been modified to produce some of the foods formerly produced on the other farms."
The monorail leveled off at 'ground' level and swiftly passed one, then two, then three, then four terminals.
Kroy said, "No one is waiting for a car, so we don't stop."
Their car soon passed through a portal at the far end of the complex and once again began to descend at a steep angle and seemed to be turning to the right.
Capt. Kroy said, "We're now passing through food processing levels, water recovery and storage levels, and the power production and distribution complex for this part of the ship."
Bill didn't respond, but was just trying to process everything.
Kroy continued, "We will soon arrive at a terminal that provides a perfect view of the warp drive."
As the car emerged from the tunnel, Bill was instantly overwhelmed with what he saw before him. They were near the edge of a enormous spherical chamber. But that did not begin to describe it. As Bill's mind tried to take this all in, his head began to spin.
Kroy said, "Bill, are you all right?"
"Not really. Give me a minute."
Bill closed his eyes and tried to process what he had just seen in this chamber. "This is not a carnival ride. There is nothing here to make me feel woozy like this. Yes, it's large and intimidating, but it is real and not dangerous. If it were, Kroy would not have brought me here." He had never suffered from agoraphobia before.
After a couple of minutes, Bill felt better and opened his eyes, "I'm OK now. It's just that this chamber is unlike anything I have ever imagined possible."
"Of course. I understand. All of us aboard ship have grown up seeing the warp drive, so we are used to it."
It was only now that Bill noticed that the car had stopped at a terminal. They stood up and walked toward the car door, which opened for them. Out on the platform, they stopped at a handrail, which Bill made full use of.
Capt. Kroy said, "Well, what do you think of my warp drive?"
Bill didn't answer. This chamber was probably the very center of the ship and appeared to be 5-6 miles in diameter. There were only two things Bill could see in this hollow sphere. One was a row of several dozen large circular flood lights recessed into the chamber's ceiling, stretching from left center, up to the top of the chamber and then down to the right center. Given the size of the chamber, the flood lights were probably each 100 feet in diameter. But by far the most imposing thing in the chamber was the hollow glass-like cylinder running straight through the center, from one side to the other, from where the flood lights began to where they ended. This cylinder, probably 2,000 to 3,000 feet in diameter, was covered on the inside with an open-weave chrome mesh. Extending from the wall inside each end of the cylinder, was a long cylindrical shaft that appeared to be 500 to 800 feet in diameter. Everything in this chamber was of such large dimensions that Bill could only guess at these numbers. Each of the shafts extended about a mile into the glass cylinder, also appeared to be made of chrome, and had a sphere on the end about twice the diameter of the shaft itself. Along each were large grooves running its full length.
He was suddenly captivated by a detail he had just noticed. Every few seconds a red glowing ring of what looked like neon gas, leapt from each end of the cylinder, traveled quickly toward the center where they collided, reversed direction, and traveled back to the end of the cylinder from which they came.
Capt. Kroy noticed what Bill was studying, "Those are plasma rings to keep the warp drive at its minimum operating temperature. Because of them, we can use the warp drive within about 5 minutes. Without them to keep the warp drive warm, it would take several hours for it to reach optimal operating temperature."
"Fascinating! Tell me some of the dimensions of this chamber," Bill said. It came out almost as an order.
"We are located in the very center of the ship. This chamber is roughly 8 kilometers in diameter, about half the diameter of the ship. The tempered, 5-layer ceramic cylinder is 700 meters in diameter; its walls are 10 meters thick; and is filled with a mixture of inert gases. It is similar to your Pyrex, only many times stronger. The large metallic shafts extending into the cylinder from each end are made of depleted uranium and a titanium alloy. They are each about two kilometers in length."
"And the flood lights?" Bill asked.
"They are strictly for illuminating the chamber for observations like ours. They serve no operational function. In fact, during operation of the warp drive, this chamber is sealed and cannot be accessed due to the intense light and heat produced by the warp drive."
"Capt. Kroy, I am simply overwhelmed. I'm sure you are tired of hearing me use that word, but it describes me at this moment. I just can't conceive how any of this could have been constructed!"
Capt. Kroy chuckled, "Those details you can learn in the future, should you decide to accept our proposal."
Bill didn't respond, but was trying to imagine cranes and slings and scaffolding being used to build this ship, and he could not.
"So Bill, are you ready to return to Earth now?" Kroy asked.
"Yes. Thank you. I will need some time to process everything."
"Good. Shall we go then?" Kroy said as he gestured toward the waiting monorail car.
Bill was silent and barely remembered the ride back to the Command & Control deck. In his mind, he was trying to tell Molly everything he saw today.
As they were walking down the corridor leading to the Bridge, Capt. Kroy said, "Ah. The nomenclatures on the displays were changed to English while we were gone."
Bill looked and could see that the labels on the virtual buttons across the bottom of the displays were indeed in English. But that was a minor detail Bill could not worry about right now.
As they entered the Bridge and walked toward Capt. Kroy's ready room, Bill noticed that all the console buttons, lights, and labels were now in English. "I suppose it's all done with computers."
Cmdr. Stipz was seated at the left chair when Bill and Kroy approached the ready room. She rose quickly and said, "Mr. Weller. I hope you enjoyed your tour."
"Yes. Very much."
Cmdr. Stipz then made the traditional Belarian bow, which Bill returned.
"Where did that come from? Am I acclimating already?" Bill thought.
Back in the ready room, Capt. Kroy handed Bill a small document. "This contains text and photos of your tour today. I am sure Molly will enjoy seeing them and reading about all that you have seen."
"Thank you, Captain! I have been thinking how great it would be to have photos of all this."
Capt. Kroy extended his hand, "Until next time, then. I will be eagerly awaiting your call."
Bill shook his hand, "Until next time."
Capt. Kroy took his communicator from a pocket, pressed a button, and Bill was back home in his living room. It was 12:14 PM.
During the Boot Camp mission in Chapter 4, the American and Belarian crew discover an artificially created system of over 7,000,000 wormholes (which they nickname The Fountain) leading to locations throughout the Milky Way Galaxy, as well as to millions of other galaxies in the universe. Where is the highly advanced civilization responsible for its creation? What artifacts and clues did they leave behind? What exotic and extraordinary worlds do the wormholes lead to?
To read the rest of this exciting novel, join Bill and his 12,000 Earth crew members on this whirlwind, out-of-this-world adventure through the galaxy and beyond. Now available in paperback at Amazon and for the Kindle.