Captain Anderson Winchester Lovett of the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces (Space) did not appear to be in an argumentative mood nor did he seem to be intimidated in the least by the richest man in the world. Instead, he put his elbows on the table and made a steeple of his fingers, resting his square chin on the tips. His blue eyes stared with interest at Snyder, his bushy eyebrows almost meeting above the bridge of his nose. He had responded to the call from Snyder’s secretary for a meeting more out of curiosity than anything else: there had been very little substance in the initial call—just a simple, “Mr. Snyder would like to meet with you.”
The cavernous conference room on the fifth floor of Snyder Enterprises’ ultra-modern-style headquarters building was more of a library than a conference room. Books—actual, honest-to-goodness books—lined the walls from floor to ceiling and the pungent smell of leather and old paper permeated the room. The huge, nine-meter-long, Mahogany conference table sparkled as the gleaming surface reflected the recessed ceiling lights. Twenty-six leather-upholstered (actual leather, not faux leather) chairs were pulled up to the table. The room was a not-so-subtle statement of the financial status of Snyder Enterprises.
Anderson wore civilian clothes to the meeting instead of the uniform he had worn for 30 years. He had always thought he looked sharp in the black pants, the black tunic with its gold trim and the light-blue beret atop his closely cut brown hair. It was an opinion shared not only by his wife and his children (although they would rather chew glass than admit it), but also quite a few of his female acquaintances. A veteran shuttle pilot, he had more than 750 flights to his credit, taking supplies, people and equipment up to the two moon bases (Base Heinlein and Base Clarke) and to the space stations at Lagrange Point 4 and Lagrange Point 5 (simply called L-4 and L-5).
Ensign Lovett, fresh out of the United Nations Peacekeeping Academy, had begun his career as the junior shuttle pilot doing the usual mind-numbing duties awarded brand-new ensigns. It did not take long, however, for his superiors to recognize his ability to get intractable machinery and recalcitrant people to do his bidding. He had been fast-tracked through the ever-dangerous political landmines of the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces (Space)—usually referred to by its initials, UNPF(S)—by an ever-growing number of influential mentors until he became Commander, White Sands Shuttle Base—the man in charge of all shuttle operations, shuttle pilots and shuttle maintenance in the UNPF(S). He was at the pinnacle of his career.
Should he be promoted to Commodore and the giddy heights of Flag rank (and such a promotion was a certainty rather than just a possibility), he would wind up as just another desk jockey, chained to an office with an obsequious assistant and a view out a window (maybe). He was not sure he would survive the honor.
At 188 centimeters and 100 kilos, Anderson pushed the upper height and weight limits for a shuttle pilot. Neither circumstance, however, had kept him from spending every possible second he could in a cockpit, although lately the cramped conditions of a “Round Robin,” a single flight to both moon bases and both space stations, would leave him stiff and sore for several days after touchdown—a subtle reminder he was inexorably slipping into his fifties.
“And exactly how are we going to do that, Mr. Snyder?” Anderson’s emphasis on “we” was obvious.
“We’re going to gather together a few thousand of our closest friends and neighbors and get the hell off this dying, God-forsaken, never-to-be-sufficiently-damned planet. That’s how!”
“And exactly where are we going?” Anderson asked, again with heavy emphasis placed on the word “we.”
“Out there,” Snyder responded, pointing a bony finger vaguely upward. “The Outer Limits, the Final Frontier—whatever the hell you want to call it—a place far away from here.”
“And exactly how are we going to get ‘out there’?”
Snyder smiled, leaned forward and in a voice suited to a conspiracy whispered, “That brings us back to Einstein, doesn’t it? You see—” His voice grew even softer, “—you can travel faster than light.
“I need someone to ride herd on the whole thing,” he said after letting the improbable words fill the conference room for several seconds. “I need you.” Snyder slumped into his chair across from Anderson and abruptly transformed from a defiant evangelist into a tired, rumpled old man.
“It’s bigger than me,” Snyder continued in a less confrontational tone, his light-blue eyes staring into Anderson’s deeper blue ones. “I don’t like it, but I have to admit the truth. Besides” his voice was matter of fact, “I’m dying.”
Anderson’s eyebrows arched in surprise. This was 2236 and the average lifespan in the twenty-third century approached 120 years. Daniel Snyder was just entering what was called “high-middle age,” and, like most people in their eighties, he could expect at least another four decades of productive life before even modern medicine lost its magic.
Snyder waved a hand in dismissal. “Oh, not right this minute and there’s nothing medicine can do about my genetic defect, but I will die soon—too soon, maybe, to finish what I started. If you can pull it all together fast enough, I might be able to go with you, but that’s not a guarantee.” He shrugged as though consigning that possibility to the trash heap. “And even then, I’ll probably not be in the best physical shape.” He paused for a moment. “I have an assistant, a good one, in Jared Dunlap,” he continued, “but he’s not up to this. Don’t get me wrong, Lovett, he’s a good man, a dependable man, but something like this is beyond his skills. And,” Snyder said with a deep frown, “I have some doubts about his mental stability. Too intense. Too thin skinned. Too—” he raised his hands, palms up, to indicate his uncertainty, “—too something. At any rate, you’re the person I want.”
Snyder closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Have you ever read the Constitution of the United States of America?” His blue eyes opened again and he stared into the even deeper blue eyes on the other side of the table.
The non sequitur confused Anderson for a moment. “I heard about it in school, of course, but I’ve never actually read it. Wasn’t it some political manifesto published by some terrorist group several hundred years ago?”
The look he got from Snyder—a mixture of disgust and dismay—would have curdled milk. “Modern education,” Snyder looked as though he could spit on the floor. “Two oxymorons for the price of one.” His tone made “modern education” sound like four-letter words.
“It seems to me, Captain Lovett, that you somehow missed a few important parts of history. Real history, not the rewritten, neutered crap served in today’s schools.” Snyder leaned forward in his chair, his voice filled with enthusiasm. “About six hundred years ago, the colonies in America broke away from the King of England and created the United States of America. Two of the greatest documents in humanity’s history were the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America, both created within a few years of each other. The Declaration of Independence contained some of the most startling notions of man’s rights since the Magna Carta of 1215; the Constitution was the foundation upon which the greatest country in the history of the world was built. People had freedom, Lovett. Freedom to be themselves, to attempt the impossible and to achieve the unbelievable. It was the richest country in history. The defender of the world. A place where no one was turned away.”
His eyes unfocused, as though looking at something far away and they were bright with moisture. “‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door’,” he said as if to himself. A moment later, he looked back at Anderson; the shudder that shook his shoulders seemed to reenergize him. “Those were the words engraved on the Statute of Liberty in New York harbor. I’ll bet you’ve never heard of them, either. Have you?”
Anderson shook his head. He was uncomfortable, as though he had failed a test he didn’t even know he was taking.
Snyder snorted, stared for a moment at the man sitting across from him with obvious disappointment before continuing his story. “And then, it all came apart. It started to rot from within. Not overnight, of course, but the United States of America began to gradually slide down a slippery slope from which it could not recover. The Federal government took more and more of its citizen’s freedoms away, made more and more capricious decisions and eventually stumbled into complete gridlock. Congress could not even agree on what day it was, let alone what was best for the country. The American people grew tired of the whole game, threw up their hands in disgust and turned their backs on the government. They simply surrendered their rights and allowed the career politicians to tell them what to do, how to live and even what to think. And then, on September 11, 2107—the final Friday of the old world—the Great Jihad began, a religious war that made all previous wars look like a tussle in the schoolyard between two juvenile bullies.
“Millions died. Cities were destroyed. And the United Nations swept in to gather up the rubble and impose their will on the world. There were no more countries, just administrative zones run by fiat from UN Headquarters. America disappeared. England disappeared. France, Egypt, China, Russia—all the countries of the world with their long histories and individual societies and impressive accomplishments—simply went away. By 2110, we were left with what George Orwell had, so many years before, aptly called ‘Big Brother.’ No one had freedom, only an obligation to follow the rules. And the rules were always made by some damned-fool autocrat in Geneva.”
He took a deep, obviously painful breath. “That’s what my dream is, Lovett—freedom; the freedom to try—and to fail. We don’t have that now. We haven’t had that for over a hundred years. And the result is this cesspool we call Earth. And the only way we can get it back is to start all over again—out there.”
What’s the big deal? Anderson wondered to himself. So we have rules we have to live by. They don’t seem to be all that onerous to me. No society can live without rules, guidelines for day-to-day living among billions of other people. And the fact that those rules come out of a central place is immaterial. I have a nice house, a wonderful family, food on the table, and a job I can be proud of. What do I need with more freedom? Hell, most people I know wouldn’t know what to do with more freedom. Is this guy a skittle brain, or what? His smile never made it to his face as he unconsciously used slang he had learned from his children.
Snyder broke the silence with a boyish grin, accentuating the creases of his prematurely wrinkled face. “You asked me two questions earlier, neither of which I’ve answered yet. Which first? Would you rather know where we’re going, or how we’re going to get there?”
Anderson’s eyes widened. “There’s a ‘where’?” The revelation stopped his mental examination of Snyder’s basic premise like running into a brick wall. Now I’m interested.
Snyder nodded, reached out and pressed a button on the tabletop that connected him with his secretary. “Alice, please send Jason in.”
Dr. Jason Simon was a small, dapper man with long, dark hair, a pencil-thin mustache and a look of perpetual curiosity on his face. He smiled as he entered and held out his hand to Anderson.
“Captain Lovett, I presume?” Almost before the handshake was completed, Simon settled himself into a chair across the table in a surprisingly untidy heap.
“Dr. Simon is in charge of our EPST.” Snyder was obviously proud of his announcement.
Anderson looked confused. “What is an ‘EPST’?”
“Exo-Planet Survey Team. We searched for star systems that might have a planet in the Goldilocks Zone with an eye to colonization,” Dr. Simon explained.
“And you found one?” Anderson asked automatically, even though he intended the question to be more rhetorical than anything else. If it weren’t rhetorical, I wouldn’t even be here.
“Oh, yes, Captain Lovett! Yes, yes indeed we did!” Simon’s expression was a curious mixture of pride, self-satisfaction and excitement. “In fact, we found a planet so much like Earth that it defies belief.” He leaned across the conference table, slid a memory cube into an input slot and touched a button on the control panel. A holograph of a beautiful, multi-colored sphere speckled with white clouds and deep-blue oceans sprang into existence above the table, rotating slowly in the air. At first, Anderson thought it was Earth; it looked exactly like what he had seen hundreds of times from space, until he noticed the outline of a large, unfamiliar continent beneath the white clouds swirling over the surface.
“This, Captain Lovett, is a planet in the Circumstellar Habitability Zone—the Goldilocks zone—of a G5V star some two-hundred light years from Earth in the constellation Draco. Originally designated HIP five-six-nine-four-eight, the star was renamed Intipa Awachan back in the early Twenty-first Century. Intipa Awachan means ‘Sun’s Twin’ in the Quechua language, a now-extinct language in the South American Administrative Zone. With only a few exceptions, everything about this star is virtually identical to our Sun. There are, however, twelve planets orbiting it.” He paused for a moment to let that fact sink in. “The one Mr. Snyder’s christened ‘Enya’ is also a twin—an identical twin to Earth.”
“Enya?” Anderson glanced at Daniel Snyder who nodded.
“After my late wife, God rest her soul.” He looked at Dr. Simon and smiled to disarm his next words. “Jason, Anderson is not a scientist, so please keep it simple. There’s no reason to go into six significant figures or scientific notation. He can get all that later. Right now, it’s down and dirty.”
Anderson turned back to stare at the holograph. “What’s it like?” he asked.
“It would be easier to tell you how Enya differs from Earth.” Simon sat back in his chair with a look of disappointment at having to “dumb down” his narrative. His eyes were half closed, as if he were imagining himself standing on Enya’s surface. “Visualize the Earth. Make its radius just a little bit less than Earth’s—six-thousand kilometers instead of six-thousand, three-hundred and seventy-one. Add some extra oxygen; in fact, add exactly ten percent more. Reduce the gravity by five percent. Instead of five continents, there are three: one gigantic one in one hemisphere and two smaller, but still impressive, ones on the opposite side of the planet. Increase the amount of water by several million square kilometers. Add in a couple of damned impressive mountain ranges on the largest continent. And forget winter, Enya’s axial tilt is only twelve degrees so there’s almost perpetual spring. Make the year last four-hundred-and-twenty days with a day twenty-six hours long with almost exactly thirteen hours of daylight and thirteen hours of darkness. Once you do that, you’ve got Enya.”
Anderson’s widened eyes stared at Dr. Simon. “It sounds too good to be true.”
“It took us seventy-five probes and hundreds of millions of dollars to find Earth’s twin, but we did it.” Dr. Simon’s grin threatened to split his face in two. “Yes, it does sound too good to be true, I agree. But,” he waved at the holograph, “there it is.” He laughed. “Don’t even ask about the odds of finding a planet like this. You’d probably have a better chance of winning the lottery without buying a ticket. But, odds or no odds, it really does exist.”
Dr. Simon’s silence lasted less than a minute.
“There is one interesting way in which Enya differs from Earth.” Dr. Simon said quietly.
“And that is?” Here it comes, Anderson thought, the proverbial ‘other shoe.’ No, he argued with himself. If it were something serious, a fatal flaw, a ‘something’ that made the planet uninhabitable, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Could there be intelligent life there?
“It has three moons. One large one with, of all things, Saturn-like rings; and two smaller ones, one a little larger than the other.”
Relieved that the difference was not a disaster waiting to happen, Anderson shook his head. “That should make tides interesting,” he commented in a wry voice.
Simon laughed. “You can bet on that! It takes a computer program and a lucky rabbit’s foot to create a tide table. And then you have to hope you’re in the right place at the right time.”
Dr. Simon laid a memory cube on the table in front of Anderson. “That’s everything we know about Enya: maps, elevations, atmospheric data, oceanographic analysis, aerial photographs—everything. We’ve had a dozen probes orbiting Enya for almost a year—our year, not Enya’s year. It’s all there.” He pointed at the cube. “The New World. And it’s waiting for us!” He closed his eyes and a look of immense satisfaction settled on his face. He opened his eyes again and smiled at Anderson. “My contact number’s in there as well. If you have any questions, just call me.” He looked pleadingly at Daniel Snyder. “Are you sure you don’t want more detail, Daniel?”
Snyder shook his head. “I think that’s enough detail to give Lovett an overall picture.”
Dr. Jason Simon nodded slowly. “Then I’m finished” He stood up and offered his hand to Anderson, “Remember, Captain, I’m always available to answer any questions you might have.”
There were several minutes of thoughtful silence following Dr. Simon’s departure before Snyder reached out to press another button on the conference table’s control panel. Enya disappeared and in its place, suspended above the tabletop, was a ship that looked somewhat like a dumbbell except that one end was cylindrical while the other end was a sphere. A long, relatively slender shaft connected the sphere with the cylinder. Two enormous, rectangular panels extended from the cylinder and another two from the sphere. They looked far too fragile to maintain their shape and they dwarfed the rest of the ship. There was no scale on the projection so Anderson had no way of guessing the size of the hull or the panels. Whatever the scale, he thought, it’s huge! It looks more like a wasp than a dumbbell, Anderson finally decided. Except for the “wings” are on both the thorax and the abdomen.
Snyder pointed at the cylindrical section. “This is the living module, where those friends and neighbors I mentioned will pass the time between leaving Earth and landing on Enya. And this,” he pointed to the sphere, “is the propulsion unit. The connecting shaft exists simply to protect the living module from the engine compartment and to store cargo and supplies for use on the planet.”
“Why are the living quarters and the engine so far apart? Does the engine pose some kind of danger to the passengers?”
A smile flitted across Daniel Snyder’s face. “Yes, it does. If you want a scientific answer to your question, I’ll need to call Dr. Willard West in to talk to you. I asked him the same question once and he replied he would be glad to explain if I knew anything about ‘multidimensional polynomials, say, to six or more, and tensor side lobes’.” Snyder grinned. “I didn’t know then and don’t want to know now. It works and that’s all I care about. This,” he pointed back to the sphere, “Is the world’s largest capacitor—ten-thousand petafarads. It stores an unbelievable amount of energy and is used to transport the ship from Point A to Point B instantaneously—or at least that’s how it will appear to the passengers.”
“How does that work? I mean, how does the ship go from Point A to Point B?” Anderson was fascinated, his eyes glowing with interest.
Snyder shook his head. “It has something to do with string theory, dark matter, entanglement, gravity waves and the interaction of all of them within the General Theory of Relativity. It’s really all above my head. Again, Dr. West is your man. Talk to him.”
“Um, maybe later.”
“Good choice. If I brought him in now, all it would do is give both of us headaches.”
“What do these wings do?” Anderson pointed to the panels sticking out from the two sections of the ship.
“All capacitors leak to one degree or another. As I understand it, the larger the capacitor, the larger the leakage. The wings—they’re actually high-efficiency solar panels made from a blend of mélanged graphene and transition-metal dichalcogenide crystals—don’t even ask me to explain that—keep the capacitor charged, provide internal power to the ship and are part of the in-system propulsion system. We used the same concept for all the probes we sent out. We know it works.”
Something nagged at Anderson, the shape of the ship and the solar panels activated a snippet of memory that tried to worm its way through a mass of neurons to reach his brain’s surface. Finally he dredged it up from a meandering conversation he and his wife, Minuet, had one night over a few too many drinks.
“‘I fly in my dreams on gossamer wings/Over castles and things and victorious kings’,” he recited in a soft voice.
Snyder looked surprised as he added the next two lines to the poem. “‘Above canyons of gold and cities of old/Where bold eagles fly and soft winds sigh.’ You know that poem?” It was a fragment of a much longer poem written more than a thousand years ago that had not survived in its entirety.
“Minuet, my wife,” Anderson replied. “She’s fascinated by things like that. Gossamer Wings. Sounds like a good name for the ship. What do you think?” He glanced away from the projection toward Snyder, whose face beamed with delight.
“I had considered naming her Mayflower, after the original colony ship from Europe to North America, but I like Gossamer Wings even more. Congratulations, Captain Lovett. You’ve just named my ship. Your ship. Our ship.”
Anderson was too engrossed in contemplating the revelations Daniel Snyder had dumped on him, trying to sort everything out, and he missed the interesting words “Your ship.” After a minute or so of intense thought, he shook his head. “It’s a lot to take in all at one time.”
Snyder handed Anderson a second memory chip. “It’s all in here. Everything there is about the Gossamer Wings.” He smiled as he used the ship’s name for the first time. “Take it home and study it. I don’t need to tell you not to lose these, do I?”
Anderson shook his head. “No, of course not.” He studied the two harmless-looking chips in his hand then looked up at Snyder. “This changes everything.”
Snyder nodded. “That it does.”
“But where do I fit in?”
“You, my boy, are going to be the CEO of Enya Colonization Corporation. Along with that job comes the position of Captain of Gossamer Wings.” Snyder handed Anderson a third memory chip. “In your spare time, read that too. It outlines the organization of the Enya Colonization Corporation, or ‘ECC’.”
Snyder leaned back in his chair and sighed. “I don’t want to rush you, Anderson, but I need an answer by next week. The process has started but there is still a lot left to do. I need you to finish it. Now,” he stood up wearily, “I’ll let you go home and think about my offer.”