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22 August 2006
"We know that main sequence stars will eventually become red giants and then maybe, just maybe they will explode and go supernova at sometime in the future but we still don't know the exact day and hour of the supernova explosion or its mechanism." Professor Archer's monotonic voice droned in soporific splendor as he mechanically read the text from the projection screen. He used a little red pointed to follow the text on the screen. He could have given the talk to the deaf without a translator.
"The accompanying surge of neutrinos creates a shock wave and jets of neutrinos blast much of the star's accumulated material, elements lighter than iron, into space. The neutrino bombardment converts some of the atoms in its path into heavier-than-iron elements up to the atomic weight of uranium. This process remains unobserved. We now believe that we have a process that will permit direct exploration of a supernova explosion." This was all in the e-text handouts. Not only did that make it boring, it was high school material. The students were familiar with it. Some of them even taught it. Morgan hated seminars. The Professor's were boring, the topics stale. Relevant information was miniscule to insignificant. Individually, each lecturer at the seminar knew that he or she was boring and nearly irrelevant. However, that didn't stop them. A free trip into space, gourmet meals and a stipend to boot, made the seminars irresistible.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our bright young students. We have at our disposal an interstellar spacecraft with quantum shielding. I'm here to enlist the best and brightest students to form the crew of the spacecraft. The mission to Antares will take a few days in hyperspace. After that, well, it all depends on how long the spacecraft stays in place collecting data, taking scientific measurements, and earning their Noble Prize. Anything that the crew learns will be theirs to publish and anything that they learn will be unique in the universe. It is an opportunity that no red-blooded American should pass up." Whispers and murmurs of "its military recruitment" contaminated the audience. Only the Military had access to quantum drives and shielding. More than half of the graduate students walked out of the room.
Morgan glanced over at Zachary Scott his research partner, raised his eyebrows and held his nose. Zachary put his hand around his neck and mimicked choking. Professor Archer saw them from the corner of his eye, transitioned to the next slide and continued his sales pitch in amazingly boring detail.
"As we all know, Antares is a huge red giant roughly 3.8 AU footnote 3 in diameter. That's almost three fourths of the orbit of Jupiter. Once inside the disk of Antares, the crew will induce iron formation in the core of Antares and observe what happens. We are certain that at 15 to 18 solar masses, Antares will go supernova. The quantum shielding will protect the spacecraft and its occupants. They, they can take measurements to their hearts delight and then, delight us with their newfound knowledge."
"If I listen anymore my ears are going to revolt."
"You're ears? My ass hurts just sitting and listening."
"I think Adams was wrong. There is something worse than Vogon poetry."
"Yes, I know what you mean. But, it still lacks the basic Vogonity, that desperate quality of despondency and self loathing of the greatest Vogon poet."
"Let's go get coffee before I gnaw off my leg?"
"Ahem!" Professor Archer stopped to clear his throat in an obvious attempt to end the chatter in the hall. Morgan and Zachary left before the real protestors started giggling and throwing marshmallows. The two men went to the campus coffee shop and sat at their favorite view port. It looked out on the asteroid belt. To counteract the lecture, Zachary ordered a choco-caffe-latte-grande-grande-mocha-expresso with mint, cinnamon and whipped cream while Morgan ordered an extra-large, black Turkish with double caffeine. They sat in their favorite booth hiding from other patrons in the coffee shop.
"You know, we are the two best physicists for this job," Morgan sipped his cup savoring the harsh flavor of caffeine as it jump-started his heart.
"Evans and Lang over at New Palomar would take exception to that," Zachary licked the whipped cream off his coffee-flavored extravaganza and began to drink the sugary, chocolate-flavored coffee.
"Evans and Lang are chimpanzees sniffing paint fumes. I've never known two guys so bright and gifted who ass-kiss their bosses so heartily and enthusiastically," Morgan took a deep breath and chugged his cup of espresso. He waited for a second and snapped his fingers at the waiter to bring another.
"Rumor is that they go balls-to-the-wall for any professor with a little influence," Zachary added. He watched Morgan's face twitch as the caffeine took effect.
"Balls-to-the-wall dog? That's harsh. I'd picture them more as lap dogs and pussy-boys fawning and kneeling," Morgan joked. Zachary snorted half of his drink. He wiped the remnants from his face.
"Rumor has it that there's a kinky military angle to this offer," Zachary said. The waiter brought the second round of drinks. He sneered as Morgan paid and Zachary fingered the whipped cream topping.
"It's always kinky when the military is involved. What's the worst that could happen to us? We get military implants in our bodies? We work for the Spooks and Spies for the rest of our lives? They're not going to geld us but even so, I'd seriously consider putting my nuts in a jar if that was the price of fame," Morgan said.
"You'd seriously consider putting your nuts in a jar for fame? Wow! If I were you, I'd give up those heavy does of caffeine for the much mellower sugar and chocolate buzz," Zachary's eyes gleamed with sugary delight as he sucked the whipped cream and foam from his drink.
"The rest of the researchers in that room are just hacks. We're the most qualified theoretical physicists in the solar system. Hell, we'll be immortalized like Newton or Einstein or Hubble or even Spitzer," Morgan answered. Zachary thought for a moment. The lure of fame was too great. He agreed. They found Professor Archer and volunteered.
First, they needed security clearances. Morgan tried to tell his friends and relatives that they had a secret mission to the Himalayas but black-clad investigators with dark glasses interrogated everyone and anyone who knew Zachary or Morgan. The inquisitors even had séances trying to talk to their dead relatives. No one knew it, but one of the deep black projects the military was researching was a method of resurrecting the dead so they could rat out their commie-pinko relatives. Morgan and Zachary lived with intermittent chaos for six weeks until finally, six big, tough MP's arrived and escorted Zachary and Morgan to a satellite base. Escorted is insufficient to explain what happened. Without warning, six of the largest marines the world has ever seen, arrived at the laboratory and physically carried Morgan and Zachary to a waiting troop carrier.
Physical and mental examinations took a full month before pronounced both young men fit and ready. Morgan and Zachary went to sleep ready to blast off into space the next morning to see the experimental spaceship when instead, the doctors started augmenting their bodies with memory chips, locator chips, radio chips, hair-growth suppression chip with supplemental testosterone, heavy-duty lungs with triply redundant backup, emergency oxygen supplies, concussive-resistant internal webbing and minimal-exercise musculature. The body modification stage of their training lasted another month. The Doctors handed them over to the military for transport.
The Military gave them flight suits and hustled them to a waiting shuttlecraft. In the week if took the shuttlecraft to reach the New Galactic Naval Shipyard, Morgan and Zachary reviewed the instrumentation and devised just how it would be installed inside the new spaceship. Dry dock #1 hid new spacecraft from view. The Navy Brass christened the spacecraft the Pride of Seattle. The good and bad news was that the citizens of Seattle would be spared the embarrassment of a distinctively shaped spaceship being named after them. The military scientists had fifteen different and unique explanations for the shape of the ship. The quantum field generator that would protect the occupants form the ravages of a supernova expressed the quantum field in the shape of the sexual curves of rather-attractive, very-naked, female genitals. The spacecraft's outer skin had to inside the shape of the field. The ship fitters, steamfitters, wheelwrights, steel masons and vacuum workers of the called the ship the "Le Grande Dame" due to its distinctive shape.
Morgan said it best when he first saw the one hundred foot high; "Holy fucking horseshit, it looks just like my third wife's vagina."
"They should have named it the hump-mobile five-thousand," Zachary added. Captain Angus MacDougal introduced Morgan Kovach and Zachary Scott to the crew of the Pride of Seattle as lead scientist and as head of data collection and analysis. The Pride of Seattle required four crewmen to fly it. Captain Brian Proudfoot was a large, muscular man with a face that betrayed his experience and years. He introduced himself as a self-professed half-Chinese, half-British, half-Aborigine, self-made man. The crew nicknamed him "The Visigoth" because of his angular face, huge nose and hairy body. For some unknown reason, the hair-growth suppression systems seemed to work on his body. Captain Proudfoot introduced their four-man crew and described their duties. The first mate, Lieutenant Alejandro Rojas had thick, stout shoulders, strong back, coal-black hair and a deep olive complexion. A veteran of several missions, he was responsible for navigating spaceship inside the star's gravity well. Sergeant Brent Brushkiller-Schmidt the quantum weapons officer, nicknamed Brushkiller, was a huge mountain of a man with muscles everywhere including in his ears, apparently. They flapped and wiggled as he spoke. His jobs were communications and weapons. His understanding of the relationship between time and space led him to invent the quantum weapon that would prematurely age the hydrogen-deficient Antares core from its current helium rich existence into pure iron.
Captain Rojas introduced his privates - William Wheatmeyer and Kittikorn Rojjanasukchai, affectionately known as Willie Weasel and Gak respectively, rounded out the crew. Willie the Weasel grew up in the mountains of Montana as a member of one of the many religious splinter-cults. They taught him to raise weasels, mice, rats, ferrets and all sorts of vermin. The cult expelled Willie the Weasel as incorrigible when he was fifteen for sexual perversity. To this day, Willie maintained that he never had sex with animals alive or dead. No one ever explained to him that invertebrate masturbation differed from inveterate masturbation. Even during his military service in outerspace, Willie maintained his taxidermy skills. He had a contract to receive road kill on a regular basis. His goal in life was to stuff and mount mating elephants but since they were endangered species, he probably wouldn't fulfill that goal. His ability to create computerized data storage and retrieval systems on the fly approached mystical levels. Kittikorn Rojjanasukchai (footnote #1) was a Thai orphan who grew up on an American military base. No one ever attempted to pronounce his real name anymore. They simply called him Gak. His IQ, measured once at 183 and again at 201, made him one of the military's most wanted mathematicians and computer experts. In high school and college, he was a champion gymnast and competition bodybuilder.
The hyperspace drive flared into brilliance as it folded the fabric of space and time and twisted the branes. The 600 light year journey to Antares took four hours, fifty-seven minutes and three seconds. Energy shields and quantum barriers protected the spaceship from the baleful red orb of Antares only a few miles beneath. The instruments scanned the binary system and reproduced it on a half dozen computer screens in the control room. Captain Rojas launched hyperspace probes to circle the huge disc of Antares. The probes reached the appropriate angular speeds and then blinked out of existence only to reappear in their orbits. Lieutenant Bushkiller established instantaneous communications links to the probes. Data began to flood into the Pride of Seattle's databanks.
"The infrared radiation output of Antares is beyond expectations. It appears cool but that's only a mirage. There's less than a billionth of the original hydrogen left and the helium is mostly gone to heavier metals. The core is at least twenty-five percent iron. Antares is ripe to turn nova," Morgan like to think aloud as he worked. Zachary searched for the best position to observe the upcoming nova.
"Now that's surprising. The safest location for the spacecraft is well within Antares outer shell and close to the iron core," Zachary said. "Not that it won't be a hot and bumpy ride. The shields reject only so much energy and the inertial stabilizers. Here's the latest simulation."
He put a three dimensional simulation up on the screens. As the core aged, it shrank and formed a gravity well. The gravity well sucked matter inwards and crushed the core past the stable neutron limit. A charmed and strange core formed of matter and energy bloomed into a complex array of magnetic and energy fields. Nuclear fusion moderated the reactions as heavier and heavier atoms formed in the aging core. Huge jets of gamma rays, X-rays and highly energetic particles streamed away from the core blasting the material into space. Nuclear fires flared in the outer shell adding to the escaping energy. Gamma rays burst forth and scoured the clouds of surrounding gas as the magnetic fields of the spinning core and the electrons aligned with each other. The nature of matter in the core changed and collapsed again as protons and electrons fused into neutrons. The unstable neutron core bulged outward on one side and contracted back again. Its surface glistened with wave after wave of magnetic fluctuations. Radiation pressures pushed it to twice its original diameter. Streams of energetic particles burst forth from the surface as it collapsed back upon itself. Again, its quantum properties changed. It became pure neutrino energy and exploded in a blast of raw quantum strings, pure energy, heavy matter and hot radiation. The shockwave passed through the exterior of Antares. The swirling ball of neutrino energy churned warping space, time and matter until the energy loss became too great for it to sustain itself. A massive burst of energy blew the core apart pushing matter outward and driving fusion reactions to create heavier elements. When it subsided, a stable neutron star glowed brightly where the red giant one stood.
"And there's a safe spot somewhere inside there to watch all this happen for real? I've got to check this out for myself, if you don't mind," Zachary said. He punched up the simulation program and started to review the equations.
"Are there any interactions with the White Dwarf binary? It is relatively close," Captain Rojas asked.
"So far, the simulations don't predict an interaction," Morgan answered
"Can we avoid the gamma ray bursts? Our shields won't withstand one of those blasts," Captain Rojas asked.
"The gamma ray bursts are entirely predictable because they're magnetic phenomena. We just steer clear of them," Morgan explained.
"I'm worried about that stuff that forms before the neutrino star. The theories don't explain what it is, just that it happens. I wonder if it stands apart from everything else. Is it possible that it's part of the universe's brane and not part of reality? We are on the very edge of what's considered normal in this universe. Is it possible that supernovas punctures the brane and lets energy leak into the universe?" Zachary asked. Morgan stayed quiet for a moment.
"I don't know," Morgan answered. The crew settled into a routine of data collection and analysis. They spent a week studying the system.
The longer they stayed inside Antares taking measurements, the hotter the spaceship became. One by one, the men shed their clothing to stay cooler. The calculations indicated a one in a billion chance of the white dwarf binary interacting with the nova, a one in five hundred thousand chance of anything going wrong and a one in ten thousand chance that they overlooked anything significant. On the downside, they discovered that the gamma ray bursts from the neutrino core could breach the shielding on the spaceship and they would have to wear quantum suits.
The quantum suits consisted of finely woven, metal-doped polymers. The suits generated a personal protective radiation shield. The suits, however, required full-orb contact lenses, plugs for the ears, mouth and nose tubes and most uncomfortable of all, anal and penile inserts to permit excretion and elimination. Additionally, the wearer had to cover his body with an oil-based metallic dope so that the suit stuck to his skin. The suits looked like silver paint and felt like sandpaper.
"These things suck swamp water," Morgan grumbled. He tugged at the uncomfortably tight fit of the suit.
"Since you are hardwired to a central power supply, you'll have to be careful that you don't yank the connectors apart," Willie the weasel warned. The power cord plugged into a connector at the bas of their spines and hung like a tail. As they activated the suits and a deep blue glow spread over their bodies. The metallic doping in the suit stimulated their flesh and within seconds, they all sported erections.
"You didn't tell us about this," Zachary tried to hide his endowment. It stuck least ten, rock-hard inches out of his crotch. Morgan's erection wasn't as impressive. The four military men just laughed at their embarrassment.
Thirty light seconds from the Pride of Seattle, a single-use, jumbo-sized, quantum weapon floated in space. Captain Rojas and Bushkiller started a checklist that ended in their triggering the device. A quantum field formed around the core of Antares and began to age it artificially. Helium fused to oxygen, oxygen fused to sulfur, sulfur fused to silicon and silicon fused to iron. Unable to fuse iron to heavier elements, the accelerated gravity field pulled the outer layers of Antares inward at a terrible and deadly rate where it crashed and compressed electrons and protons into neutrons. The quantum weapon burned out and joined the material falling into the core. A wave of energy hit the Pride of Seattle as the neutron star formed. Brilliant, filigree structures coruscating energy in every direction, magnetic and gravitational fields merging and separating, the nova took form before their eyes.
The Pride of Seattle danced like a drunken sailor as it avoided the gamma and X-rays jets generated by the magnetic fields. A second energy wave shook the Pride of Seattle. Red lights blinked indicating an excursion from the simulation. Morgan scanned the skies to find the excursion.
"The white dwarf is out of orbit," Morgan yelled.
"I thought there was only a one in a billion chance of that?" Captain Rojas aid. Zachary started to calculate the effects of the white dwarf. The ship's engines burst again narrowly avoiding a gamma ray jet.
"That was an X-ray burst from the white dwarf," Lieutenant Bushkiller adjusted the navigation computer to handle two sources of energy beams. The atmosphere in the Pride of Seattle grew electric as each man analyzed his section of data.
"It still is a one in a billion chance. It's as if the white dwarf is deliberately interfering with the nova process. If both suns go nova can we dissipate that much energy?" Morgan asked. Willie the weasel ran the increased energy readings through the shield simulation. The results were dire.
"We just can't dissipate that much energy in our present configuration," Willie answered. He frantically searched for methods to increase their shielding.
"I can maneuver us further away from Antares. We won't get as much data but we'll survive the blast," Captain Rojas said. He plotted a course through Antares' twisted and warped gravity field.
"Can we trigger the hyperspace drive?" Gak asked. Gak could barely keep up with the flow of data. The two-sun nova required a four-fold increase in data storage
"No one knows what hyperspace is like under these conditions. I'll see if there's a quantum solution," Bushkiller said. He pushed his equations to their limits in an attempt to find a way out of their dilemma. The neutron star began to deform and distort. It expanded in size becoming pure quantum energy, neither matter nor energy. The six men stared at the monitor screens. This was unique, beyond their understanding of high-energy quantum mechanics. Vast rivers of energy flowed and swirled in enigmatic reactions. Fountains of exotic particles burst forth from the proto-neutron star in a dazzling array of colors. The Pride of Seattle reversed course violently. Warning lights flashed red and orange. Electronic alarms sounded wildly as a second gamma ray beam narrowly missed the Pride of Seattle.
"What was that?" Morgan yelled.
"It's the white dwarf. It's firing gamma ray beams into our path and it's moving toward us at three quarters light speed," Captain Rojas answered.
"That's impossible. White dwarfs can't behave like that." Morgan yelled back. Captain Rojas brought the images and vectors onto the view screens. The white dwarf was definitely moving towards Antares. As they watched, the surface of the white dwarf shifted spectrums and faded out.
"What the hell was that? How can a white dwarf fade out?" Willie screamed. The Pride of Seattle lurched again. This time a gamma ray beam grazed the Pride of Seattle. A heat plume flared from the protective field around the spaceship.
"What is going on here? I'd swear that thing is targeting us deliberately," Zachary watched the data stream. The Pride of Seattle heaved again. An image of the solar system appeared on the largest screen with tickertapes and scrolling messages spewing out data in red, yellow and orange. Morgan pointed to Antares' white dwarf companion. It was several AU (footnote #3) out of position.
"No fucking way, that star just moved through hyperspace," Morgan said. The very idea shattered his understanding of physics. A beam of X-rays from the Antares core sliced at the heart of the ship. The shields reflected the energy as heat.
"Damage report, damage report," Captain Rojas barked over the alarms that sounded. Willie and Gak scanned the ships systems and found nothing.
"This is bad, guys, really bad. That x-ray beam destroyed the docking ports. We need to boost our personal shielding," Captain Rojas explained. Brushkiller, Will and Gak agreed. Captain Rojas needed an excuse to boost the power on their personal protective shields.
"Right now, I'd settle for a nun running down the aisle screaming that we're all going to die," Willie joked. Morgan and Zachary didn't understand the joke. Captain Rojas wasn't pleased.
"Transfer all power to the shields and plot a course away from the core," Captain Rojas growled. This was getting out of hand. He continued giving orders; "We are still here to collect data. Gak, prepare redundant data modules and have hyperspace torpedoes ready to carry the data back to Terra Prime. Willie, figure out a way to boost the shielding on the Pride of Seattle. Zachary shut down unessential systems. We'll need that power for shielding and cooling, and I don't want to hear any more stupid, silly-assed jokes."
The six men worked in silence for the better part of an hour. The two stars moved closer each other. Captain Rojas broke the silence.
"Well, there's good new and bad news. As long as the ship survives the nova's blast, we only need to boost the personal shields," Captain Rojas explained.
"How powerful are these quantum generators?" Morgan asked.
"Mathematically, the barrier is a power function. If we increase the power 1000 times, the field becomes 1 million times stronger. The current power supply is only two millivolts. We can increase the voltage up to 1000 volts. The quantum field will increase a trillion times. Even that increase may not be enough," Captain Rojas answered.
"We have all the power we need. Why don't we just increase the shield power to the maximum this unit can provide?" Zachary asked. It seemed reasonable.
"There's no scientific limit to the shields. However, military law forbids shields over 1000 volts because it metalizes the wearer's skin," Captain Rojas explained. Gak whacked Willie's shoulder enthusiastically. Brushkiller hid his excitement. Captain Rojas glared at them.
"Metalize our skin?" Morgan asked.
"Yeah, the field causes the metal to bond to your skin. We'll look like we're chrome plated. The military doesn't like that and will dishonorably discharge us if we do it on our own," Captain Rojas said. Morgan eyes narrowed and he stared angrily at Captain Rojas.
"Well, I'm not forbidden. As scientific team leader, I'm responsible for the scientific success of this mission, I order you to increase the protective shields to their maximum. I'll take the responsibility," Morgan said.
"That's what I hoped you would say," Captain Rojas smiled. He really didn't want to die. "This might sting," he added he punched the keyboard increasing the power to maximum. A deep blue glow surrounded each of the six men. They could feel the quantum field strengthening and encapsulating their bodies. The field pushed their arms away from their bodies and their fingers apart from each other. Morgan and Zachary felt their skin first tingle, then itch, then burn like sharp, hot needles. Without warning, the polymer base of the suits flared into incandescence and oxidized in a flash. The metals in the suit melted and fused with their skin. Morgan and Zachary screamed and yelled. The four soldiers didn't say a word.
"That, that, that hurt, you bastards," Zachary grumbled as he felt his new skin. He felt the quantum field manipulating the atomic structure of his body.
"Uh, yeah, I should have told you about this. Your bodies are generating the field," Captain Rojas fumbled for words. Morgan and Zachary immediately realized what he meant.
"You call this marking your skin? I thought you meant mark like pen and ink. We just converted our skin into metal. The stronger these fields get, the more metal they'll create. This isn't like branding, tattooing or chrome plating. This is pure conversion on an atomic scale. The longer we stay in these fields, the more metallic we'll become. The greater the intensity of the field, the greater the conversion," Morgan said. He could feel the metal coating inside his mouth and covering his eyes.
"I always wondered why the Top Brass was so secretive about this type of shielding," Lieutenant Bushkiller mused. Gak flexed his muscles admiring the reflection of his new, shiny skin.
"How long until we're completely converted to metal?" Willie asked. The Pride of Seattle heaved in a violent maneuver knocking them off their feet. They all scanned the instruments. Energy form some unknown source poured into the core of Antares. The neutron star had quadrupled in size.
"There's nothing warping time. Antares shouldn't change this fast. Where's all that excess energy coming from?" Morgan said. He anxiously poured over the data trying to make sense of it. The Pride of Seattle blinked in and out of hyperspace. Unprepared, the six men puked their guts into any available container.
"Now what?" Brushkiller protested.
"That was a hyperspace jump. Something moved us through hyperspace and rematerialized us. Is it possible that there's a second hyperspace craft?" Morgan asked.
"No, that's impossible. No one has that type of technology and we have the only hyperspace drive in existence," Captain Rojas exclaimed. They all scanned the data to figure out what happened. Morgan caught it first. The implication staggered his mind. The video screens revealed the truth. Antares' white dwarf companion had moved through hyperspace again. Less than one AU separated the growing core of Antares and the white dwarf. The Pride of Seattle sat in between the two stars.
"This is not possible. White dwarfs can't negotiate hyperspace. Do you have any idea how much energy a move like that would consume? We can't generate the energy required to move that much mass through hyperspace. In addition, hyperspace is pure entropy, the antithesis of work, and it won't support that much energy. At least that's the theory," Zachary said.
"You said stars can't direct energy beams and this one did. You say stars can't jump through hyperspace and this one did," Gak protested.
"That's theoretically impossible," Zachary repeated.
"Well fuck theory, it moved. Do you have any idea what the hell is happening out there?" Brushkiller asked.
"That's enough, soldier," Captain Rojas snapped at his Lieutenant. Morgan frantically calculated the parameters of what was happening outside their small spaceship.
"Whatever happened, the situation is degrading. The white dwarf is expanding and becoming pure neutrino energy just like Antares. I think they are on course to merge. We need to move as far away as possible," Morgan said.
Captain Rojas plotted a course away from the two stars and initiated the hyperspace drives. They felt space and time begin to warp and fold around them preparing for the move. An intense beam of hard gamma ray shot out from the white dwarf and struck The Pride of Seattle's engines square on. The hyperspace propulsion systems on The Pride of Seattle died ingloriously. More gamma ray beams bombarded the spaceship destroying the conventional engines leaving the sensor net active and shields functioning. The ship drifted on the gravity waves passing between the two stars.
"Cocksuckin'," Willie mumbled aloud.
"Motha' fucka'" Gak added.
"We're dead. We're all dead. That blast knocked out our engines. If we enter that ball of neutrino energy, the heat will penetrated the ship's shield and burn us to cinders before we die of radiation. If it doesn't the radiation will just burn us into nothing by our atomic components," Brushkiller had panic in his voice.
"I'm diverting all excess power to the ship's interior shields and our personal shields," Captain Rojas said in a calm and controlled voice. The six human bodies glowed with a deep, unearthly blue color as each personal shield tried to protect their human bodies. Helpless, the crew watched on the monitors as the neutrino core of Antares and its white dwarf enveloped them.
The outermost radiation shield on the Pride of Seattle collapsed. Waves of radiation poured into the cabin. Captain Rojas redirected as much power as he could to their personal quantum shields. The greater the blast of radiation, the stronger the field became. Morgan felt his hands and feet tingle in the intense quantum energy as his shield converted his flesh to metal. The neutrino plasma inexorably disintegrated the spaceship. The six men accepted their grim fate. They had miscalculated the nova and would soon become part of the resultant neutron star as the consequence. The walls of the inner chamber collapsed exposing their augmented bodies to the vacuum of space. Ironically, the augmentation would keep them alive long enough to experience dissolution in the neutrino plasma. The last vestiges of the Pride of Seattle dissolved around them leaving them to float in the neutron plasma watching the flow of energy cascading around them. Their personal shield functioned by absorbing energy directly from the neutron plasma.
A brilliant white ball of energy appeared in the midst of the six humans. It directed six beams of pure energy from its center into the hearts of the six humans. An intense blue glow of the quantum field radiated from deep inside their bodies. Morgan, Rojas, Zachary, Brushkiller, Gak and Willie felt their human bodies changing, transmuting, transforming into metal in the intense energy. Exotic alloys formed and replaced their carbon-based bodies. A floor of solid neutrons formed beneath their feet and gravity sucked them onto it.
"Be not afraid," a deep booming voice filled their minds. The six men struggled to their feet as more and more energy poured through their bodies completing their transmutation. Any one man alone would have thought their current situation was crazy, a lunatic, lost his mind, gone completely bonkers or merely psychotic, eidetic echoes of a dying mind - to put it simply, completely nuts. However, six men, once flesh, blood and bone, now completely made of metal, confronted the reality if each other, their new bodies and their existence inside a supernova. The ball of energy coalesced into a pillar.
"We're not dead," said Captain Rojas his voice caused vibrations in the energy swirling around them.
"No, of course not young man, you're still alive," the entity answered. The pillar pulsed with each word.
"You, you're the one who moved the white dwarf through hyperspace, aren't you?" Morgan asked. The voice chuckled in a way that calmed the six men and made them feel comfortable. The energy entity formed a humanoid body out of energy. It took a moment for their human eyes to adjust to the brightness.
"Yes, I moved into the nova. I had my reasons, keeping you alive was one of them," the entity answered.
"I can control matter, energy, gravity, even time. I was waiting for Antares to go nova when surprise, surprise, six humans blink in from hyperspace and start playing with quantum shields and metallic conversions. You had the right idea, just the wrong methods. If this were merely a nova, you would have floated around inside the core for millions of years until you figured out how to harness the energies around you," the entity explained.
"You moved a white dwarf?" Zachary asked.
"Young man, I am the white dwarf. Why would flesh and blood be the only form for life to exist in the universe?" the entity's eyes narrowed and bored into Zachary.
"But we were only here to study how stars go supernova," Lieutenant Brushkiller said. It was as much a question as a statement. The figure sighed and shrugged its shoulders.
"And yet, you triggered the nova with a time warp, a big and dangerous time warp. That's the deadliest of all the causality violations. You men really didn't know what you were doing, did you?" the entity asked. Sadness filled the energy surrounding them. Without warning, an immense storehouse of knowledge flooded into each of the men's brains.
"You… we… us… it… we're…" Brushkiller stuttered and stumbled around the realizations forming in his brain. The other men alternately grabbed their heads and bodies attempting to cope with the influx of knowledge.
"We never realized that you humans were this adventuresome and reckless. Typically it takes another half million or so years of evolution for a sentient race to attempt conversion into metallic energy beings. Although your attempt was doomed to fail, it is admirable. You are lucky that I intervened," the entity said. The entity's storehouse of knowledge ran amok inside the human's heads.
"You'll all absorb the knowledge you can handle. It's uncomfortable but it's necessary if you want to live," the entity said. His body split into two humanoids and the duplicate floated away and took some of the energy with him.
"What are you doing to us?" Captain Rojas asked.
"I'm creating my offspring; you would say he is a white dwarf." The entity answered. The flows of energy began to separate into distinct modules.
"Recreate?" Zachary said.
"Offspring?" Willie asked.
"Yes my offspring. In addition, since there is sufficient mass in the Antares solar system, I'm going to recreate all of you in my image. You will become the avatars of living suns. You will be able to travel the galaxy without effort, navigate hyperspace and even create whole worlds if you desire. With great power comes great responsibility. Remember that young men, remember that,"
"Jai yen, Jai yen, nunchi," Gak said. The entity agreed. (footnote #2) Languages and words flooded between them and the meanings became clear.
"Yes, and as quickly as I can," the entity answered. Energy poured through their minds creating a hearts of solid diamond within their metal bodies. The entity moved the six humans apart. The neutrino energy boiled and swirled around them cascading nearly immeasurable energy on them. They could sense the imminent supernova explosion as the entity fashioned the neutron plasma into seven white dwarf stars. The supernova blew off two and a half FOE's (footnote #4) in less than a second leaving seven well-spaced white dwarfs shining brilliant blue white in the sky.
"In six hundred years, your home planet will see a new supernova in the sky. If you visit Terra at the proper time, you should have the astronomers name this new constellation ‘the seven brothers'," the entity said. Their individual suns vibrated as he spoke.
"How long will we live?" Captain Rojas asked.
"…until your star, your white dwarf crystallizes into pure diamond and grows cold. Has your race calculated the age of the universe?" the entity asked.
"Uh yeah, 13 billion years old," Morgan answered.
"Well, white dwarfs take 25 billion years to cool. Have a happy life," the entity said. His body flared into a blinding white ball of energy and moved away. He absorbed sufficient material to recreate the Pride of Seattle. Once again, the crew stood in its control room.
"These are your most familiar manifestations. If you concentrate, you can make your bodies appear as flesh and blood. You can be anything no matter how wild, or mythological or imaginary it is. Your metal bodies are indestructible. Be careful, you have all the power in the universe at your disposal. You can do great harm to living creatures," the entity moved away from Antares and disappeared.
"Where did he go?" Brushkiller asked.
"My Father has returned to his white dwarf in a distant quadrant of the galaxy. We're on our own," a tall, muscular and handsome young man answered.
"Who are you?" Captain Rojas asked.
"I'm his son. I don't have a name that I can communicate to you. I was hoping to join you for a few years and learn about being human. You are a most fascinating race. I would like to experience existence as part of your crew."
"Interesting proposition," Captain Rojas answered. It felt good to be back in a physical body even if it was metal and not flesh and blood.
"Billy Joe Jim Bob."
"Dweeby Number Four."
"Titus Bumphus O'Harrington."
"What the hell are you guys talking about?" the man asked.
"You need a human name," Captain Rojas answered. He thought for a moment.
"I suppose I do," the man answered.
"Even the fungus on my toes deserves a better name than Wesley," Willie floated a thought aloud.
"Conrad Fungus would be a nice name. He'd be the fungus among us," Gak giggled.
"Stop this…" Captain Rojas grumbled. "Boyd Barrington from Providence, Rhode Island, that's your name. We'll create a history for you before we get back to Terra," Captain Rojas answered.
"Yes Captain," the newly named Boyd answered.
"You can start by learning all of the tasks on the Pride of Seattle. Gak and Willie will be your instructors." Captain Rojas said.
The crew examined the Pride of Seattle and found its databanks contained excellent representations of supernova and white dwarf formation that omitted any mention of their new existence. After a few days of exploring their new abilities, Captain Rojas plotted a return course to Terra and initiated the hyperspace drive. The crew never told the Terran authorities of their transformation. They had many long and interesting adventures and one day, they all simply disappeared from the planet and began to explore space on their own.
6608 words more or less
FUTURES YET UNKNOWN
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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