An unexpected development
The Equinox was a hive of activity with only a week remaining before the new guard and supplies would arrive and time was running out.
Jason’s crew consisted of forty eight released prisoners excluding Vince. According to the ship’s records the remaining thirty two prisoners were violent criminals. Both Jason and Vince agreed that releasing them now posed a danger to everyone else and could jeopardise the plan.
The forty eight who were released made an ideal team. They were fairly intelligent, but more importantly they were all willing to participate in Jason’s endeavour.
Dr Eve Lomax, however, caught Jason’s eye. She was a smart, witty, strong willed and extremely good looking woman. She was a little shorter than he was and he couldn’t help but notice how her dark eyes sparkled and perfectly matched her jet black, curly, shoulder length hair.
She had found herself on board the Equinox for voicing her concerns about human rights violations against the United Earth Government, an act considered to be treason.
The faster than light drive had found its home inside one of the rear cargo bays and was almost ready for testing. Jason was able to salvage most of the parts needed from the ship’s maintenance facilities and fashioned the rest in the engineering labs. The drive was huge but its size was necessary as the Equinox was a massive ship.
This huge drive was connected to induction coil arrays and field emitters placed at strategic locations around the inner hull of.
Jason tried to explain to the men, and one woman, how the multitude of field emitters would create a single continuous field of normal space-time around the ship while the induction coils would contract and expand space-time causing them to be propelled beyond the speed of light, but his highly technical explanation consisting of proofs and equations was lost on most of the workforce. They were happy enough simply constructing and wiring up parts as instructed without knowing how it worked, as long as it did work.
Everyone was divided into groups and each group had a specific task, while Jason oversaw the entire operation. He chose to work alone on the highly specialised tasks and encouraged the men to ask questions if there were any uncertainties, rather than make costly mistakes.
“Remember, there is no such thing as a silly question,” was something he was heard saying quite often.
Jason also spent much time on the ship’s simulator learning the intricacies of piloting and navigating the massive Equinox and the various shuttle craft on board, leaving him very little time for sleep. Caffeine and sheer determination was what kept him going. Vince and Eve had also spent some time in the simulator, though not as much as Jason did.
Footsteps and a tap on his shoulder startled Jason. He had been kneeling in front of a complicated looking piece of technology with his hands inside a service panel. He looked up, soldering iron in hand, at the smiling Eve, who had brought him coffee.
“Thanks,” he said, smiling back. He placed the soldering iron on the floor next to him and stood up.
Eve always had a contagious smile on her face and she was forever full of energy.
He was tired, mentally and physically, from the long hours and lack of sleep and welcomed the coffee break, but more especially the company. Eve’s company, to be precise.
“This is the interface which links the bridge to the faster than light drive systems,” he said, taking a sip of the coffee. Eve nodded.
She wasn’t the most technical person, but she made an effort to understand and always asked Jason to explain when she didn’t.
She was a medical doctor, a general practitioner who had worked at a medical centre that catered for children with special needs, so such technology was foreign to her.
She was a warm and friendly person but headstrong at times, especially when she felt strongly about something. It was that very same trait which had landed her aboard the Equinox.
Jason really enjoyed her company. She got along well with everyone on the team, always ready to attend to injuries or just offer moral support, even during her rest periods.
“Do you think we’re going to be ready in time?” she asked.
“I know we will,” replied Jason with an air of confidence. I’ll be done with this interface within a few minutes. We can begin testing as soon as the last inductor array is fully installed. Hopefully, before the day is over.”
“Ok,” she smiled, and walked off.
Jason was done within a few minutes as he had predicted. He then went looking for Vince who was busy on the other end of the cargo bay.
“Jason!” shouted Vince, waving his right hand.
Jason spotted his friend and walked over. Vince seemed to be in an unusually good mood.
“The guys are busy with the last inductor assembly,” he reported, the excitement showing on his face. “It won’t be too much longer before we can fire up this system and see if your theories are correct, Jason.”
“Oh, they are correct,” said Jason with an air of arrogance. “And soon, the universe will be our playground.” He sounded like an insolent child about to get his hands on a new toy and get up to untold mischief, and Vince was just a little concerned at this.
“Come, let’s begin the ship’s pre checks in the mean time,” continued Jason. “The main thrusters haven’t been fired in a really long time and I’m hoping there are no problems.”
A combination of anti gravity drives and manoeuvring thrusters kept the ship in orbit and on course, while the main thrusters provided the ship with full forward thrust for deep space travel. Since the Equinox had been in geostationary orbit for the longest time, there had been no need for the main thrusters to be fired, till now.
The ship’s bridge was located deep within the Equinox, though one could easily be fooled by the large main view screen which gave the impression that one was looking out of a window at the front of the ship.
The captain’s chair with its little mounted control panel that could be moved into position in front of the captain as required was located dead centre, about five meters away from the main viewer. The first officer’s station stood to the right, and the navigator’s console to the left of the captain’s chair. Both these stations had a full set of instruments. There was a station for the ship’s engineer facing the right wall and a station for the gunner facing the left wall. A whole array of instruments and displays lined the back wall, with the reinforced automatic door at the centre.
It was standard practice for large deep space cargo ships and research vessels to be equipped with weapons in order to defend against stray space debris and possible attack by those intent on plundering their valuable cargo.
Jason took his place in the captain’s chair and Vince sat himself down at the first officer’s station. The view of the earth down below and the stars stretching out to infinity like tiny glittering jewels was just breathtaking.
“This is your captain speaking!” began Jason, speaking into the ship wide communications system. His voice could be heard echoing throughout the ship.
“Captain,” he smiled to himself. He liked the way it sounded, almost like something out of his favourite science fiction movie. His familiarity with the ship’s systems and hours on the simulator made him the most suitable person on board to occupy this seat.
“We are about to commence with the pre checks. I want to use this opportunity to thank everyone for their effort. We will soon be the first humans to have travelled faster than light. I only wish it was under better circumstances. Nevertheless, we are all on the verge of making history and for that you should be proud. Each and every one of you, just as I am proud to have you on my team.”
He turned around to the sound of clapping. Eve had walked in and was clapping slowly.
“I want you to know,” started Vince, “No matter what happens, you are the best I’ve had the honour of serving with and I am proud to call you my friend.”
“Ok people, let’s get moving,” said Jason, trying to keep a straight face. Getting emotional now was not an option. “We’re on the clock and the clock is ticking!”
Eve quickly sat herself down at the navigator’s station to the left of Jason and strapped herself in. She was only vaguely familiar with some of the flashing lights and touch controls in front of her so she kept her hands to herself for the moment.
Halfway through the checks Bart burst into the room out of breath and visibly agitated.
“Captain!” He saluted.
“I’ve just been informed that the change of guard is en route, ahead of schedule! They should arrive within the hour!”
“Oh no!” exclaimed Eve.
Jason quickly realised what this meant. It was now or never. Calm as ever, he took charge of the situation.
“Bart!” he ordered. “I want you here on the bridge. Take your position at the gunner’s station and monitor their approach.”
He turned to the intercom.
“Attention all hands!” he continued into the microphone. “I want the faster than light drive ready now! Earth forces are already en route, so it’s now or never!”
All that remained was for the men to hook up the last inductor array into the faster than light drive in the drive room. As soon as this was done the system would be online and ready to be fired.
The tension could be felt throughout the ship as the main thrusters came to life after such a long period of inactivity. The Equinox shook and shuddered violently at first and then stabilised as the massive engines powered up. Slowly at first and then with ever increasing speed she began to escape Earth orbit, on a new adventure to the stars.
Back on Earth and on board the little transport ship which was steadily making its way to the Equinox, the sudden firing of the dual rocket engines and the change in course of the massive prison ship had not gone unnoticed.
“What the?” began Captain Morris, captain of the transporter, his jaw dropping in surprise as he realised what was going on.
“Hail them,” he instructed, “And contact Earth Command.”
“Yes sir!” replied his first officer.
“Full speed ahead!” continued Captain Morris.
The little transporter surged ahead at maximum thrust closing the gap between it and the escaping Equinox even faster now.
The Equinox may have been the biggest and best ship of her kind but she was certainly no match for the small and nimble transporter class vessel in terms of speed. Jason was all too aware of this.
On board the Equinox, Jason had already plotted a course for the Alpha Centauri star system while ignoring transmissions from Earth Command and from the little transporter which was now only minutes away from intercepting them, and already within firing range. There were more ships being launched from Earth too; heavily armed military ships.
“Jason, they’re firing at us!” screamed Eve as an incoming torpedo grazed the hull of the Equinox somewhere at the rear causing a violent shudder to be felt throughout the ship.
The reinforced hull remained undamaged from the blast but Jason knew that another one or two direct hits could shift the odds against them.
“All hands, brace for light speed!” said Jason calmly into the microphone. His finger reached for the activation button on the touch screen in front of him. The faster than light drive had just come on line but was untested so he had no way to know for certain if it was going to work.
“It had better work,” he thought to himself, “Or we are all screwed.”
He knew that a number of the guys were still inside the drive room and activating the drive would vaporise them but there just wasn’t any time to spare. Escaping the attacking transporter with an intact ship was his main priority right now.
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” he thought out loud.
He looked up from his panel to see the disapproving looks from both Vince and Eve as his finger made contact with the touch screen. He knew they were thinking the same thoughts but time was a luxury that they simply didn’t have right now. Someone had to make the difficult decision.
“Sorry,” he whispered, “But we’re out of time.”
“We have a weapons lock on their engines,” reported gunner M Tyke. “Ready to fire on your order.”
Captain Morris took a deep breath ready to give the order but stopped short in surprise. He could not believe his eyes. The Equinox began to glow and suddenly accelerated forward at a tremendous speed before quickly vanishing from sight and from his ship’s sensors.
“Fire!” he commanded, but it was too late. The Equinox was already gone.