The Solar Voyager
(Written by Apple Sauce Kids for the public domain)
Contents
This is an outer space adventure story that contains real science. It is therefore, mildly educational. Most of the science used in this story is cutting edge and still under development. This story is approximately 52 pages long.

The Senate Hearings ................. 1
Day 1, The Departure ............... 2
Day 2, The Meteor Shower .....12
Day 3, Helping Others ............ 20
Day 4, The Encounter ............. 36
About the Author .................... 51
Glossary ................................. 51
Written: 1/29/2000

The Senate Hearing

     It all happened so fast, disaster, destruction, and now a moment of peace, will it last? Or has Voyager simply given us false hope. For the people living on the Moon, the crew of this simple freighter saved them from total destruction. They didn't have to stay and help, but they did. They could have flown away, but they didn't. It's not the easy things that make a real friend. It's the self-sacrificing things that demonstrate a real friend, and the people on the Moon know who their friends are now.

     Governments all over the world have been savaged in the press for their inept handling of the situation. And they are determined to catch up. They know that the only way to appease their people is with action. U.S. Senator Suma has called extensive meetings with experts from NASA, the Defense Department, and consultants in planetary defense. But first he must give credit where credit is due.

     "Mr. Everett, the Senate Select Committee on Outer Space wishes to thank you for coming today, and for giving testimony concerning the latest trip of the Solar Voyager. Sir, the valor of your crew and passengers is to be applauded. Their commitment to life and the self-sacrificing example they have given to mankind brings them well-deserved honor. They have easily saved thousands of lives. I was surprised to find out that the Solar Voyager is still acting as our lunar sentinel. Please extend my personal thanks to them. For the record, please start your testimony by giving your name, address, and relationship to this incident."

     "Thank you Senator. My name is Bill Everett from Dover, Delaware, and I am president of Interplanetary Mining, Inc. The owner's of the space freighter Solar Voyager."

     "The Solar Voyager is an unarmed solar sail and ion drive ore freighter designed to haul ore ingots and supplies to and from the Moon. Her huge solar sail measures more than a mile on each of its four sides. Dwarfing the small size of the crew cabin. This is a very large slow ship. And because of her size, she must carry a small high-powered utility ship, the BTH-A Tractor. This utility space tug is generally referred to as Bertha. Solar Voyager has a crew of three with the ability to carry as many as three additional passengers. All of her previous thirty-six trips to the Moon had carried passengers without incident.

     Late last year Interplanetary Mining was asked by Earth Magazine to carry the winners of a world wide ecology contest to the moon as part of an environment awareness campaign.

     Twelve-year-old Juan Rodriguez from Mexico won the contest and the free round trip to the Moon. His winning essay was on the peaceful use of space to improve the environment. Juan was accompanied by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez is a nano-machinist, and Mrs. Rodriguez is a homemaker.

     On the trip of June 6, 2087, Solar Voyager's crew of three consisted of ship's Captain Mark Pela. The Executive officer was Thandukuthula Sibusiso or Sibu for short. She is the first woman, and Nigerian, to receive medals for bravery in space. And the Crew Chief was Chief Petty Officer Uri Renko. All three were very experience professionals.

     Ladies and gentlemen on that morning all systems were fully operational. The ship had a full load of supplies and everything looked like the beginning of a perfect trip. But I believe that you will agree this trip was anything but ordinary."

     "I would now like to direct your attention to the TV monitors placed around the room. Please play the recording of the June 6 trip of the Solar Voyager."

Day #1
The Departure

     Captain Pela opened the hatch and dropped down into a dimly lit Solar Voyager from the Space Shuttle. He then reached over and turned the lights up too full. Turning around in the air he faced a somewhat shaken Juan coming through the hatch.

     "Ok everyone, move slowly until you get used to the weightlessness, and be careful not to hit any switches. Everyone just come on in and standby here for a few minutes while I check in." Pela reached down and touched the com button on the combination radio and PC that was stuck to his side while the precession continued.

     "Dover, this is the Solar Voyager, come in please."

     "Dover here, go ahead Voyager."

     "We're just checking in Dover. We have just arrived and should be ready to leave orbit on schedule in about an hour. Do you have any messages for us?"

     "Roger Voyager, you intend to leave orbit in about one hour. We do not have any messages for you."

     "Voyager out."

     "Affirmative Voyager, Dover out."

     Sibu's small five foot tall build easily drifted through the hatch and moved to one side, while Renko's very muscular six foot three inch, two hundred and eight pound body took more effort. Renko closed the massive hatch with ease, hardly making a sound.

Pela could easily see that Juan and Mrs. Rodriguez were uneasy as they floated next to the wall. Trying to reassure the Rodriguezes that everything was going smoothly he put on a big grin.

     "How's everything going so far?"

     "Wow, what a ride!" exclaimed Mr. Rodriguez who was still a little shaky. It kind of reminds me of the guy that goes up to an Airline Clerk and asked for a ticket to New York. The Clerk asked: By Buffalo? And he replied, I guess that would be ok as long as the saddle was comfortable." The crew laughed, but Mrs. Rodriguez and Juan didn't. They were holding on to the handrail for dear life and didn't say anything. When a sudden loud bang on the outside of the ship visible scared Mrs. Rodriguez. Pela quickly moved to comfort them with his best, everything is just peachy smile, and a glance at the ceiling "Termites".

     "Termites", responded Mrs. Rodriguezes loudly, as if she believed the Captain. "Those are the loudest termites I ever heard." Sibu and Renko could hardly hide their laughter. Sibu reached over and patted Mrs. Rodriguez on the back; "He's only kidding. It's the Shuttle crew loading supply pods." Mrs. Rodriguez looked a little embarrassed.

     "Ok everyone, Welcome to the Solar Voyager." announced Capt. Pela.

     "We have a lot to do in an hour, so we need to get down to business. We have a set greeting that we have to give to you. It's kind of like the things the stewardess says on an airplane. What can I say? We have safety regulations too, so here it goes."

     The noises that you are hearing are coming from the Shuttle crew putting on our supply pods, and external pallets. So for the next half-hour or so you will hear all of this banging and scraping, it is all normal; there is nothing to worry about. As soon as they get done we can open the hatch to the supply pod, and get your sea bags. After that we will get all of you settled into your cabins. The per-flight prep crew has already been here and installed the internal experiments, checked the ship for all of the normal daily stuff like water, air, and so on. So we won't have to play with that stuff. They have also serviced the nano-robots that keep the ship clean."

     Pela looked and gestured down the length of the ship. "As you can see the crew part of the ship is just a long straight tube. This hallway goes the entire length of the ship. In fact that door that you see down there is the other end of the ship two hundred feet away. The hallway is on one side of the ship and all of the rooms are on the other side of the ship. Starting right here at this end we have a large closet then my cabin. Next to me is Lt. Sibu's cabin, then Chief Renko's cabin. Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez's cabin, Juan's cabin, the bathroom, the galley, exercise area, the internal experiments area, and at the far end is engineering. On the outside of the ship are four very long poles called mast that hold the huge sails that go all the way around Voyager. There are also four external pallets of experiments, two on each side. The three power plants make the electricity. There are two supply pods, one on each side, a spacetainer of supplies that will be dropped off at Agape Station. There is also Bertha. Bertha is a small six-seat, very high-powered ship that does all of our heavy lifting, pushing and pulling. It retrieves the ore ingots from the Moon. You might think of Bertha as our runabout, and workhorse, all in one run about . . . Well that's basically it. Are there any questions?"

     Juan raised his hand.

     "Yes Juan, what is your question?" Acknowledged Captain Pela.

     "How can the wind make the ship go? In school they told us that there is no air in space. The man down on Earth said that we have to use the wind to make the Solar Voyager go."

     "Excellent question Juan, and you are right. There is no air in space. The man meant that we use the solar wind not the air kind of wind. The solar wind is made of subatomic particles that come from the Sun and go out into space. We can use this solar wind kind of like air wind by letting these small particles push on the sails, but this means that we have to keep sailing away from the Sun. You might ask yourself, well that's great, but how do we get home if we have to keep sailing away from the Sun? Well, we let the Moon do the work of bring us back. We start by sailing from the Earth; away from the Sun, to the Moon, when the Moon is farther out in space then Earth. The Voyager then orbits the Moon for about half a month while the Moon orbits around to the Sun side of Earth. When the Moon is closer to the Sun then the Earth, the Voyager leaves the Moon, again heading away from the Sun, and returns to Earth. That way we are always sailing away from the Sun. While we do have motors that are big enough to make the trip, they are very expensive to run. We only use the engines when we have to. The solar sail is much cheaper, and really gives a nice smooth ride. Are there any more question?"

     "Yes Sir, do we have to exercise?" ask Juan.

     "Yes you do, this ship does not have gravity. If you do not exercise you will become very weak. When you are on earth you get a lot of exercise doing simple things like walking and carrying your schoolbooks. You probably do not realize that are working to over come gravity. Now that you are in space you will not be getting that normal exercise so you have to exercise on machines to stay strong. Chief Renko will give you your exercise schedules. Everyone will exercise. Are there any more questions?" The look on each face indicated no question right now and Pela turned to Renko.

     "Ok Chief take them on a quick tour of the ship before we leave orbit, and be sure to stop at the radios."

     "Yes sir," acknowledged the Chief as he waved for the Rodriguezes to follow him around the ship. "This way ladies and gentlemen."

     Pela turns to Sibu, "Lieutenant, why don't you go ahead and unload the sea bags from pod #1 while he gives the tour. When they come back, you two can get them settled in. Then you and Juan can go into the internal experiments lab for the preflight inspection, while Renko checks the external experiments with the Rodriguezes. They may like to see some of the experiments we do."

     "Yes sir." A momentary pause as they float next to each other in the aisle way watching the tour near the other end of the ship. "What do you think of our passengers?"

     "Well, I don't know Lieutenant . . . Juan asked some great questions, but he may be a little young and playful for this, and Mrs. Rodriguez may be starting to get motion sickness. I guess that just because you're wearing a medium blue flight suit that doesn't make you a space traveler. Do you know what I mean? You may want to keep a barf bag handy for her . . . all in all they should be ok."

     Lieutenant Sibu looked over at Captain Pela and smiles. "Someone told me that NASA calls a barf bag a "MDRS", a Multidirectional Digestion Restraining System." At which point they both laughed. "She is looking a little green around the edges."

     "So you saw that too." Acknowledged Pela, "I was hoping that I was seeing things. Maybe you should take a few minutes to check on her."

     An understanding "Sure" was the only comment as Sibu pushed off toward the engineering section. As she arrived, she grabbed a handrail to stop and smiled at Juan, "Well how is it going?"

     "Great Lieutenant Sibu," exclaimed Juan with real excitement.

     "Good Juan. How about you Mrs. Rodriguez?"

     "My stomach is a little upset. I think it is from all the excitement."

     "Well, why don't you come with me and I'll get you some popcorn for that stomach. How about you Mr. Rodriguez?"

     Mr. Rodriguez replied, "This is very exciting, Lieutenant."

     Juan jumped in "Everyday of this trip is going to be a great adventure."

     Mrs. Rodriguez, while holding her stomach quips, "Juan, you can have the adventure, all I want is something for my stomach."

     "Ok, lets take care of that stomach." Sibu put her arm around Mrs. Rodriguez as they start for the galley. As they entered the galley Mrs. Rodriguez was struck by how much it looked like her nano-kitchen at home. "Lieutenant Sibu, my kitchen is bigger, but this one looks a lot like my kitchen at home. I have all of the same things that you have and a long table that seats six too."

     "Yea but your table and chairs aren't bolted to the floor. And we do have some differences. Here, all meals come with a cover on each plate to keep the food from floating away, and all drinks come in sip cups." Both ladies laughed for a moment.

     "Tell me Lieutenant, do you have to change those dirty boxes of minerals?"

     "Well our base elements are in Supply Pod #2. That gives us forty three base elements to make all of our food, and a few small extras." Sibu floated up near the ceiling and reached into a cabinet taking out a bag of popcorn. "Being short is not a problem in space." She then drifted down and put it into a microwave oven. Pointing across the room, "Those nano-food processors are about five years old now, and they are kind of slow compared to the new ones that are out. So we still keep some easy to store foods, like popcorn and some snacks. Everything else we get from the food processor. A normal meal will take about two minutes to make, including the plates, covered sip cups, food, and everything. When you are done with your meal just put you dishes back into the food processor, and hit the REMOVE button. The processor will disassemble everything and put all of the atoms back into their correct bins in Supply Pod #2 . . . Did they explain how to use the ID badge?"

     "Yes, they said that we had to have the badge on us all of the time. The computers automatically track us with the badges. It will set the lights for us. It is a two-way radio. If there is an accident, it can tell rescuers where we are, and many other things."

     Sibu took the bag out of the microwave oven and handed it to Mrs. Rodriguez. "Try this, it should help your stomach." Just then Mr. Rodriguez and Juan came into the galley.

     Mrs. Rodriguez gave Mr. Rodriguez a peck on the cheek. "Pedro, look at the galley."

     "Oh yes, it looks a lot like your kitchen," Replied Mr. Rodriguez. "Let me see . . . there is something missing. Oh yes, Juan with a piece of pie in each hand. Juan calls it a balanced meal." Everyone laughed.

     "Well," announced Sibu, "I might as well go through the galley lecture. Ok everyone, now hear this! Keep your ID badges with you all the time. The badges help the food processors flavor your food just the way you like it. They also tell the food processor about any medical problem you may have. Fore example, If you are not allowed to have salt or fatty foods. All of the plates, cups, and silverware are magnetic so that they will stick to the table. There are some snacks in the cabinets. Everything else can be gotten from the food processor in about two minutes. When you are done eating put your dishes back into the processor and hit REMOVE."

     From near his cabin, Captain Pela watched to ensure that everyone was adjusting well to the weightlessness. Several minutes go by and then in the background the Shuttle crew could be heard over the radio, "The supply pods are mounted."

     Sibu and Renko got the Rodriguezes together and help them get their sea bags.

     Juan floated next to his mother while holding a handrail with his left hand and his sea bag with his right. "Boy, this bag is a lot lighter now, and look at how easy it is to move around. This brings an understanding smile from the crew."

     "Ok compadre," exclaims the Russian in his best Mexican accent. "Lets go check out this cabin." Which was hardly big enough to even be called a closet, but would be home for the next few weeks.

     "Chief Renko can I go outside after we check out my room?" Asked Juan.

     "Well partner, I don't think your going to be spending any time outside on this trip, until you and your folks get to the surface of the Moon. But I did bring some great movies to watch."

     Lt. Sibu then gave the Rodriguezes a small wave to follow her, "Why don't both of you come with me, and I will show you your cabin?"

     "Solar Voyager, this is Discovery come in please," Captain Pela tapped the com button on his communicator, go ahead Discovery."

     "Captain we have finished loading your supplies and experimental pallets. We are ready to leave."

     "Captain Pela flipped a couple of switches on the Engineering panel. "Discovery, the air lock is broken. Thanks for the ride."

     "You're welcome Solar Voyager. See you folks in a few of weeks . . . Discovery clear and moving away."

     Mr. Rodriguez came out of his cabin just in time to hear the radio. "Captain, will we hear much talking on the radio?"

     "Well Mr. Rodriguez, we will hear some. There are nine governments and about twenty different companies in space now, but not all of them are in space at the same time. So sometimes you hear a lot and sometimes you don't hear very much at all. We monitor two main channels all the time. One is our company communications channel; no one else is on that channel. The other main channel is the Space Emergency channel. It's kind of like the old CBer's channel 9. From time to time we will also listen to the Space General Broadcast channels, which is kind of like listening to a CB radio. Anybody can talk on that channel, and they do."

     Renko approaches, "Sir, if it's ok, I will show the Rodriguezes the External Experiments controls.

     "Sure."

     Renko waved for the Rodriguezes to follow him back to Engineering. Upon arriving Renko pointed to one side of the panel, "On the outside of the ship are four pallets that are each 10 feet by 10 feet. Each pallet is full of experiments that we are conducting for various schools and companies. All of the controls and readouts for the experiment are on this side of the control panel. Please do not touch any of the controls. At the same time Sibu found Juan in the galley finishing his Mom's popcorn and took him to the Internal Experiments Area. Ok Juan; on the outside of the ship are experiments that do not need normal room conditions. Inside the ship we have this area, The Internal Experiments area. This is where we keep living things like plants and animals. As you take a few minutes to look at some of the cages and container you will see all kinds of creatures."

     "You are doing experiments on all of these animal?"

     "Well, not all of them. This dog, the cat, the genetically improved talking monkey, and that snake are pets that we are delivering to Agape Station. But the rest are taking part in experiment."

     "Don't you feel bad about hurting them?"

     "None of these experiments are hurting any of these animals. For instance, this little pig has special blood that can be used for making medicine. But we need to know if he can live in space. These spiders are making a new type of web silk that will make very strong armor plating for the military. These silk worms will make the prettiest silk ever made. But we need to know if we can take them with us as we move deeper into space. In any case please be careful not to let anything out when you are in here. Some of these animals are dangerous."

     "Ok Lieutenant."

     Sibu looked at her watch; "I have to check the computers. Do you want to watch?"

     Juan showed a real interest in everything and replied, "Sure," as they started toward Engineering.

     A very clear chime came over the radio then, "A notice from the NASA Space Traffic Control Center. Be advised that at approximately 14:30 Zulu the British Mining Company's Forager will leave London for a direct flight to Agape Station on the Moon. Chime."

     "Well Mr. Rodriguez," announced Captain Pela, "you may be in for a treat. In about a half-hour the Forager will fly by us. We will have to try to see it."

     Sibu waves to Capt. Pela from the Engineering panel. "Sir, all systems are operational. Five minutes till we leave orbit."

     Pela waves his hand to get everyone's attention, "OK people fold down these folding chairs from the wall and strap your selves in, there really is not much of a jolt when we leave orbit, but we have safety rules."

     A few minutes of shuffling around and everyone was seated. Pela, Sibu, and Renko each took command seats a few feet away in Engineering. The moment of high excitement had come. The grins on Juan' and Mr. Rodriguezs faces seem to go all the way around their heads. Mrs. Rodriguez had a death grip on a barf bag and was as green as a well-watered lawn. A few second of anticipation, then the sound of a motor and a thud.

     "Sir, the sail has deployed normally", announced Lt. Sibu in a clear strong voice, and then the thrusters could be heard with a small jolt. "Sir, thrusters are on line . . . Voyager is changing course . . . Sir, trajectory equals laid in course . . . We are on course for the Moon. We have thruster shutdown."

     "Well done Lieutenant, please realign the mast cameras to look back down our flight path. The Forager will be leaving Earth in a while and everyone may want to watch her go by."

     "Yes Sir."

     Juan was very excited; "Wow the Forager is going to pass us. Its brand new, and man is it fast."

     Mr. Rodriguez shared his insight on speed, "You know Juan, I was on an airliner a while back and the lady across the isle stopped the stewardess. And told her to tell the pilot not to fly faster then the speed of sound."

     "Really."

     "Sure, her and her friend wanted to talk."

     Juan smiled at Sibu he's got a million of them. They both laughed.

     Sibu continued, "The Forager can take off from Earth and fly directly to the Moon and back in two days. Those new engines really go, and it's a pretty ship too. I'll tell you what, why don't you and your dad come back here and sit in the Engineers chairs. You will get the best view from here."

     Juan yells, "You bet", and quickly moved to the chair closely followed by his father.

     "Ho, slow down there, partner," exclaimed Chief Renko as he reached out to grab the careening boy.

     "You have to go slower Juan," warned his father, "you don't want to get hurt on the first day."

     Sibu turns toward the confusion, and pointed to the chairs. "Ok guys, sit here. You can see all of the action on these monitors. A little bumping and playing go on as the passengers work their way into the Engineering seats, and Sibu gets them strapped in. Now, I have set up the monitors so that you will see them approach on this monitor first, and then this monitor. Then this one as they go by, and this one last as they disappear toward the Moon. You will have to look carefully, because they will really be going fast. Several minutes of intense monitor watching go by, and then over the radio comes a distantly oriental voice. "Solar Voyager, even at this distance you are a beautiful sight."

     "Nikki, Sibu here, don't tell me that they are really letting you fly that thing." Sibu reaches up and taps on the first monitor to draw Juan's and Mr. Rodriguez's attention to the Monitor, as if anything was needed to do that.

     "You bet, I have driving permit from Sears of Tokyo."

     "Well Nikki, where are you guys going this time?"

     "We are going to stop at Agape Station for a few hours to pick up a scientist that wants to go prospecting with us out at the asteroid belt."

     Sibu's smile got bigger, "Speaking of Agape Station, have you been back to that Italian restaurant on Main Street lately?"

     "No, not since Renko and I slipped on the floor and broke the door. And then Renko told that joke and got that lady laughing so hard that she spilled all of that food on the floor. I've been a afraid to go back."

     Nikki and Sibu laughed for a second and then she asked for that special person, "Hey Nikki, is Lundy there?"

     "I sure am, young lady, we have got to stop meeting like this. Someone is going to start talking about us."

     "Well I wanted to finish hearing about your family. You said that they were originally from Jamaica.

     "Yes, my grand father moved the family to England when my father was ten."

     Nikki interrupts, "Buddy you need to learn how to talk to girls faster. It's time for boost."

     "Sibu, one of these days Nikki and Renko won't be around and we will sit down and talk like regular people."

     Sibu laughs, "Maybe so, but all I ever see of you two is the flash as you guys go by."

     "Do you mean like this? Asked Lundy."

     The monitor watchers quickly jumped from monitor one to four, and all that was left to see was the flashing of the Forager's clearance lights disappearing in the distance."

     "Show off," jabbed Sibu as the crowd went, "WOW!"

     "See you later alligator," was Nikki's farewell.

     The talk on the Voyager quickly became the Forager and it's lighting fast fly by. Juan wanted to know all about it. " So Sibu tell us all about the Forager. How do they prospect? What are they prospecting for?"

     Mrs. Rodriguez wanted to know, "are you dating Lundy?"

     "He is very cute, and I won't mind. But we are rarely in the same place. We both do a lot of traveling. We haven't had a chance to talk and really get to know each other. Anyhow back to the Forager, when a mining company starts to explore an area they first send robot probes to take picture and do basic mineral surveys. Based on that data they send a ship like the Forager to do real detailed prospecting. Sometimes they take scientist and more robots to really look an area over."

     Then Juan noticed that, "The Earth is getting smaller in the rear monitor."

     "That's right, the further we get from Earth the smaller it will look. From Mars, the Earth looks like a small blue star. It is really breath taking to see the Earth from the Moon, because everything on the surface of the Moon is gray or black. And the Earth is so big and colorful that it almost looks out of place."

     "Lieutenant Sibu, asked Mrs. Rodriguez, "How many people are at Agape Station?"

     "About fifty full time residents," replied Sibu, "but I would guess that it might get as high as one hundred on Exploration Day." A

     fter a few minutes of conversation Sibu reminded the Rodriguezes of their exercise schedule. Little by little everyone started to settle into the routine. Juan would spend a few minutes exercising and then a few minutes in the Internal Experiments Area. Mr. Rodriguez was trying to take Mrs. Rodriguez's mind off of her stomach with some exercise. It was all about normal for passengers on a trip to the Moon. Exercise and looking at the experiments in the lab filled a lot of time.

     Suddenly about eight hours out from Earth orbit there was a large bang and the entire ship shock.

     "Someone turn off that alarm!" yelled Captain Pela as he flew through the air toward engineering and Renko shut off the alarm.

     The System's computer announced the problem, "Alert, Damage to the #3 sail quadrant. Cameras are now being directed to the damaged area."

     Pela arrived and discussed the problem with Sibu and Renko while the Rodriguezes watched.

     Sibu pointed to the monitor. "Look a meteor hole."

     Pela reached up and turned on the radio. "Dover this is the Solar Voyager, come in please." The radio was stone quiet. "There is something wrong with the radio. Try the general broadcast channel."

     Renko reached over and turned the switch, and static could be heard."

     "This is the Solar Voyager calling the Dover Controller, come in please."

     "Dover Controller here, go ahead Solar Voyager."

     "Be advised that we just took a three-foot meteor hole in the third sail quadrant, and the company channel is down. We are trouble shooting the problem now."

     Sibu ordered the Systems computer into action, " Systems computer, trouble shoot the company radio, identify the problem and point the cameras at the problem.

     The Systems computer responded, "The company radio antenna is gone. Since a replacement antenna is not onboard. I have ordered a new antenna that will be replaced when the Solar Voyager returns to earth."

     Pela reported the problem. "Dover the company antenna is gone. We are going to have to use the general broadcast radio for the rest of the trip. There is no other damage and all other systems are operational."

     "Understood Voyager, we have not received any notice of meteor showers so it must be a stray."

     "Affirmative Dover Controller, that is all we have, Solar Voyager out."

     "Roger Solar Voyager, Dover Controller out."

     "Well folks, you've just had more excitement then I've had in my last 20 trips." Announced Captain Pela with a smile.

     Mrs. Rodriguez quickly asked, "Captain, will this be a big problem?"

     No Mrs. Rodriguez, we will not even notice the hole in the sail, and the only problem with the radio is that everyone will hear everything that we say. It will be like talking on a CB radio."

     Juan still excited turned in the air and looked out of the hatch window in the front end of the ship. "Look, there's something out there."

     Sibu and Renko turn from the engineering panel to look out through the window.

     "I don't see anything Juan," commented Renko as he looked out.

     "The stars twinkled." Explained Juan. "Stars don't twinkle in outer space."

     Sibu smiled and explained, "Well Juan that is mostly true. Stars don't twinkle in outer space because there's no air. But lots of things can make them look like they're twinkling even in outer space. Light reflecting from the side of the ship onto the glass, space debris, defects in the glass." Explained Sibu with an understanding smile.

     "Sorry but I don't see anything out there either," scrugged Sibu.

     "I know what we need to do. We need to watch a movie." announced Renko in a thinly veiled attempt to break the tension. "The last one to the galley has to go outside and blow on the sail."

     "Did you know Chief," asked Mr. Rodriguez, "that it is ok to start at the bottom unless you're learning to swim."

     "That's pretty good Mr. Rodriguez."

     Everyone laughed, and the Rodriguezes went to the galley to watch the show.

     "Thanks Chief," acknowledged Captain Pela.

     Renko smiled an understanding smile and pushed off for the galley doing the back stroke and then a flip that caused him to careen off the floor and bump his head on the ceiling.

     Juan thought the whole thing was quite funny and the first day turned to night and all was quiet.



Day 2
The Meteor Shower

     Day two and the ship's bell reminiscence of more nautical times, sounds four bells.

     "Solar Voyager this is Dover," . . . a monetary pause and a repetitive voice . . . "Solar Voyager this is Dover, come in please."

     Captain Pela switched on the radio in his cabin, "Go Dover, This is the Solar Voyager."

     "Solar Voyager, we're ready for your daily report."

     "Roger . . . the last time I talked to Mrs. Rodriguez was early this morning, and she was still sick as a dog from her motion sickness. She's having a miserable trip. We have done all the standard things; toast, plain popcorn, and we even gave her a pill. But, I am very hesitant to give her another pill until you can get in touch with her doctor. I wish there were something else I could do for her. Mr. Rodriguez and Juan are having a great time telling jokes and they are very helpful around the ship. The dog got out of its cage this morning, boy did that cause some excitement. But all in all, the crew and passengers are doing well."

     "How about the experiments on your external pallets?" Asked the Dover Controller.

     "Ah . . . A16 is complete. A4 failed, we don't know why, and all others are operational."

     "Voyager, here's Bill," announced the Dover controller.

     "Voyager, have you pulled the A4 experiment to look at it?"

     "Yes, but we couldn't find anything wrong. It seemed to be getting power and the indicator lights are on, but it's not filling the product jar," replied Captain Pela.

     "We'll check with the customer, replied Mr. Everett, "maybe they'll know what to do."

     "Can we shut down the B2 experiment?" Asked Pela, "It has made the necessary amount of vaccine and still has enough excess capacity to run another day? We could use the power to charge the batteries."

     "Voyager, Our gauges show that your batteries are still three quarters full. Since your batteries are fairly full. We would like you to continue to run the experiment as long as possible. We want to keep our customers as happy as possible now don't we?" Asked Bill.

     "Yes sir," acknowledged Pela, "well beside that, all systems are operational."

     "Very good Solar Voyager, Dover out."

     "Solar Voyager out."

     Captain Pela floated up from the desk in his cabin and out into the isle where he met Lieutenant Sibu. "Mrs. Rodriguez is doing a bit better, Sir. We've been giving her some plain popcorn, and that is settling her stomach."

     "Very good Lieutenant. Dover wants us to continue running the B2 test until it's full."

     "Yes Sir." Came the Lieutenant's response.

     "Mrs. Rodriguez, you're looking much better." proclaimed Captain Pela as he met her in the galley.

     "Yes Captain, I am feeling much better, thanks for the popcorn."

     "Anything to help Mrs. Rodriguez. Space travel can even be rough on us old timers, but plain popcorn or toast is pretty good for settling a spaced out tummy." The Captain paused for a moment and surveyed his ship. "Juan really seems to like weightlessness." Observed the Captain as Juan did a triple flip a few feet away. Suddenly the high radiation level and micro meteor alarms both sound.

     "Close all meteor shields, and fold up the sail before the meteors tear it to shreds." Yelled Captain Pela to his crew as they threw themselves toward the engineering control panels. As the Captain pushed off toward the engineering panels, a bright burst of light filled every corner of the Voyager stunning everyone onboard for several seconds, quickly followed by a violent shaking of the ship and a total power failure for about three seconds. Screams and confusion filled the Solar Voyager as all the experimental animals join in the chorus.

     "What in the world was that?" asked Captain Pela. "It didn't feel like we had been hit by anything. Why did we loose power? Sibu, run a full system diagnostic. Chief, contact Dover and tell them what's going on." The ship filled with the distress calls of other ships with similar power failure problems. Captain Pela reached over to turn the radio down but not off. "We need to solve our own problems before we can be of any help to anyone else."

     "Sir, all the computers have come back on line, but instead of automatically reloading their key programs and going to stand by, each computer is searching all of its files."

     "Dover this is Solar Voyager, come in please," said Crew Chief Renko, as surprise and excitement run through the crew and passengers.

     "Solar Voyager, This is Dover controller. We just had a very strong burst of radiation, and were knocked off the air for a few seconds. What is your situation?"

     "Dover, we just had all three power systems go down for about two or three seconds, but all power came back on automatically. We are still checking our computers. The high radiation level and micro meteor alarms both sounded, and we have closed all meteor shields and the sail. We are all a little excited, but the ship is sound and we are still trying to find out if anything is damaged." Replied Renko; "I'm putting you on open intercom so you can stay with us while we work through this."

     "Affirmative Solar Voyager, go ahead!"

     "Okay Sibu, what's the sail controller doing?" Asked Pela.

     "It's reading all of its files," replied Sibu. Several anxious minutes pass as the computers settle down to business one by one. "Sir, we have checked every system, and they are all doing the same thing. Every computer is pulling up each of its files, reading and closing the file. It does nothing with the files but read them. Sir, the self diagnostic system on the Systems Computer just finished checking itself, and I am starting a full ship diagnostic." The Lieutenant quickly started the computer searching through the ship's systems looking for problems. "Systems Computer, check all ships systems for problems."

     And the radio announced that another ship, with a decidedly oriental voice was in trouble." Agape Station, This is the Forager."

     "Go ahead Forager, Agape Station here, Nikki this is Stanislaus. We just lost power for a few seconds. Are you guys ok?" Asked the Polish accented voice.

     "Stan, everyone is OK, but we have just been hit by something. We lost all electrical power during our take off from Agape Station, and have only regained partial power to a few systems. We are in a very bad tumble. We can hardly move around the ship. We do not have any propulsion, and it looks like gravity is pulling us into one vary crazy orbit around the Moon. Man, I don't know what hit us but it was big." Nikki's shaken voice was noticeable over the radio, "Boy did we get one big scare, and it sounds like the Solar Voyager is having trouble too. I just thought that I should check in while Lundy gets some tools."

     Lundy bounces in through a hatch as the ship tumbles throwing him and his tools everywhere. "Right-o mate, I have found me trusty hammer and I'll have it fixed in half a shake, good as new." Came Lundy's British voice from the background.

     "Stan, did you hear Lundy. I had better go and help him before he really does use that hammer, Forager out."

     "Agape Station out."

     Lundy grabs a chair and attempt to sit in it as the tumbling of the ship throws tools like weapons in every direction.

     "Lundy, I have been watching the output gauges from the rear fuel cells. They are not putting anything out. They are not even trying to put anything out."

     " I know they must been damaged. The emergency lights are working because each light has it's own battery, and notice that the radio, radar, and air conditioning are all working. Their fuel cell is in the front end of the ship. The electricity for everything else comes from the fuel cells in the rear of the ship, which is also where the engines are. We were hit in the rear section aft of the pressure vessel, but how bad?

     Look, we don't need radar right now. Let's move the power line from the radar to the maintenance system. At least then we can communicate with the maintenance robots."

     "Good thinking, If you will take the access panels off of the bottom of the console. I will bounce my way back to the shop and get an extension cord for the power line."

     "That's a deal."

     Lundy released his seat belt and immediately crashed into the ceiling, and then the wall and so on. "I'm getting sick." No sooner were the words spoken and Lundy's breakfast was sprayed everywhere, which made Nikki sick. The cockpit was a slimy smelly mess, and it was getting all over them. "Sorry about that."

     "Too late now", replied Nikki, "get that cord."

     It seemed to take Lundy forever to retrieve the power code. As he came back into the cockpit he found Nikki up side down under the console with his legs wrapped around a chair base. Lundy bounced around the room making his way to the console. "Here's the cord."

     "You must be bruised from head to foot. You should see the bruises that I got just getting under here."

     Lundy hands Nikki the cord as he bounces by. "I'm going to take my seat unless you need me."

     "I'll be done in a second . . . Ok, turn it on."

     "Good work it's coming on." Lundy puts the robots to work. "Maintenance computer, this is a priority one command, send all maintenance robots aft to section A2 and look for problems with the fuel cells and main propulsion."

     Several minutes go by as Nikki works his way back into his seat. "I hope they can fix it."

     "Me too!"

     The Maintenance Computer is starting to make some progress, "Maintenance report."

     "Excellent computer, report." Commanded Lundy.

     "One robot has been dislodged from the ship and is not capable of returning to the ship. Robots one and four are trapped in the fore section, and cannot comply with the command. Robot two is investigating the problem, and has this report. A meteor has penetrated the hull destroying both aft fuel cells and the main wiring for the nuclear drive. No parts are available to accomplish these repairs. The maintenance system is standing by for orders."

     "Now what?" responded Nikki.

     "We need help." Replied Lundy as he switched on the radio. "May Day, May Day, May Day. This is the British Mining Ship Forager BSV 58. We have been hit by a meteor, and our main nuclear drive is out. We are in a severe tumble. Can anyone help us?"

     Pela switches on the radio, " Forager, this is the Solar Voyager, We would love to help you, but you are too far away. If you still need help in a couple of days we will be glad to help you."

     "Thanks for the offer Voyager, but we hope to be rescued before then."

     "Forager, this is Agape Station. There are no space ships here at this time. We have no way of getting to you. If we can come up with a way of rescuing you we will call you. Sorry! Besides, we have a mine cave in rescue under way."

     "Agape Station out." Stan, Agape Station's Mayor, and radio operator, turned to talk to one of the station's mining engineers. "Look, take anything that you even think that you might need with you. It's two hours one way. You can't afford to leave anything behind. The emergency habitat is being moved, but it won't be there for sixteen hours. Your crew is going to have to sleep in their suits until it arrives. My understanding is that the meteor landed right next to one of the tunnel entrances caving that tunnel in. There is a second tunnel about a mile away, but the door on the air lock is jammed and the walls of the tunnel have some bad cracks. It could go at any minute. As soon as you get your crew together leave."

     "Yes Sir, we're on it," responded the engineer."

     Back on the Voyager, several minutes went by as the crew tried to calm Mrs. Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez went to the galley to get some more popcorn. As Mr. Rodriguez and Juan return from the galley, both were doing flips and making popping noises in an attempt to cheer up Mrs. Rodriguez.

     "Here you go mom, some popcorn for the queen of popcorn," teased Juan.

     Mr. Rodriguez blew unpopped kernels at his wife and made a machine gun noise, which caused some laughter and broke the tension

     "Sir, all systems are operating normally," announces Lieutenant Sibu as the computer finished its search.

     Captain Pela turned to the Rodriguezes and confidently proclaimed, "See, This is one tough ship, everyone else is having trouble, and we got off clean. All systems are operating normally. But," he said in a general announcement manner, "We will leave all shields closed, the sail will remain folded, and I will now give everyone lecture number #14, which is the hull damage emergency procedure lecture. In the event that we should receive a hole in the hull of the Solar Voyager, the Rodriguezes will immediately go into the Bertha with Lieutenant Sibu and shut the hatch. You will be totally safe in there, it has a completely independent set of systems Chief Renko and I will repair the hole and then everyone can come back. If we get a hole in the Bertha, everyone will stay here, and Renko and I will go into the Bertha and make repairs. Now there is no need to worry, because this ship is very heavily armor plated against meteors, and there is no chance of anything happening." Suddenly, a large crashing noise, the whole ship shook, and power went out in part of the ship.

     In the back ground the Systems Computer identified the problem, "Be advised, a total power failure from the #2 power plant. Power busses have been switched to power plants #1 and #3. A new #2 power plant module has been ordered." The computer had successfully rerouted the power causing all systems to return to operation.

     "Sir," interrupted Sibu, who was busy at the engineering control panels, "We have lost all power from the #2 power plant."

     "Point the #3 mast camera at the #2 power plant Lieutenant," ordered the Captain as he made his way back to the panels.

     "Here it is Sir."

     It didn't take long to see that the #2 power plant had been completely torn away. Captain Pela turned to Sibu and in a very calm voice said, "Transmit this picture to Dover and explain what happened on the computer data link."

     "Yes Sir," replied Sibu knowing that by using the data link she would not have to give any of the serious details out loud, in front of Mrs. Rodriguez.

     He then turned his attention to the rest of the crew. "Well, we seem to have a little damage to the #2 power plant. That's one of our two back up systems, but it does not affect the operation of the ship."

     Mrs. Rodriguez instantly inhales the remaining half bag of popcorn, while fear paraded across her face. "Mom, would you like some more popcorn," asked Juan.

     "Yes, that would be nice," she replied while choking down the last hand full.

     Despite the meteor shower, Chief Renko immediately volunteers, in an attempt to calm Mrs. Rodriguez. "Sir, I'll be ready to go outside in a minute."

     "Thanks Chief, but it's a minor back up system, and there is a meteor shower. I think that we will just let the space station do the repair when we get back."

     Renko knew the damage had to be major. Pela always insisted on all systems being 100% operational. Pela's favorite saying was, "Having even a minor system down in an emergency can make a bad situation, a disaster." The Chief also knew the Captain was trying not to scare Mrs. Rodriguez.

     "Yes Sir," replied the Chief, and then he turned to the Rodriguezes in his best Mexican accent, no problem voice, "Que pasa, compadres, lets mosey on down to the forward storage closet and see if we can round up any dooogies." Renko stretched out his large arms and herded the Rodriguezes toward the other end of the ship.

     Captain Pela watched them enter the large storage closet and then turned to Sibu in a low voice, "OK Lieutenant, now that the civilians are gone, put on your head set and lets talk to Dover."

     "Yes Sir, . . . Dover this is the Solar Voyager come in please."

     "Solar Voyager, this is Dover go ahead." Came the reply through heavy static.

     "Dover, this is Captain Pela. The civilians are at the other end of the ship and we have on our headsets. What can you tell us about this meteor shower, and that large burst of light that came with it?"

     "Solar Voyager, you're not the only one that has battened down the hatches. In the last three hours Earth has suffered from large electromagnetic storms, caused by the largest gravitational wave fluctuation ever seen. As the wave moves through space, it is causing meteor showers, a greatly extended aurora borealis and other phenomenon. The meteor showers on Earth are so bright that you can see them in broad daylight. And no one can clock the speed of the gravitational wave because no one has instruments that can operate faster then the speed of light. Which means, this wave is unlike anything anyone has ever seen or probably ever will see again. No one has any real substantive information on large gravitational wave fluctuations. The best guess is that a gravitational wave fluctuation and meteor shower of this kind could last for months or it could last for minutes, no one knows. They also can cause large amounts of magnetic interference that can block communications and many of the meteors will be so large and so fast that almost nothing can stop them. The bottom line is, stay buttoned up."

     "The whole thing caught the scientific community by surprise, and they seem to have more questions then answers. Three hours ago most of them would have told you that such a thing couldn't even exist, but for now they are just trying to recover from throwing half a dozen major theories out the window. As for your #2 power plant, you are just going to have to do without it until you get back. Mr. Everett is aware of your situation, and his comment was Rule#1 is always to get the crew home safely. I don't know what else to tell you. You're the Captain and we will give you all the help we can. But, you should know that this could be a very rough trip."

     A thoughtful pause and then, "Thank you Dover, It's been a long day already and it just got started. Keep us, posted if you hear anything else about the meteor shower. We have a very nervous passenger here, so be careful about what you say during open communications."

     "Affirmative Solar Voyager, your ever present Dover Controller standing by."

     "Affirmative Dover Controller, Solar Voyager standing by."

     On the Forager things are getting desperate. "Did you hear that?" Asked Nikki.

     "Sure, but what can we do to stabilize this ship? What we need is some propulsion to slow the tumbling."

     "Well we have the FR3s. They fly." Reminded Nikki.

     "Yea, but there're small drilling and sampling robots. They don't have enough thrust to slow a ship as big the Forager down."

     "Well there is one way to find out. Let's launch one and see what it can do. Even if it only slows the tumbling a little it will be better then this."

     "You have got that right," agreed Lundy, "Maintenance Computer, establish a com link with FR3 #1"

     "Com link established", reply the computer.

     "FR3#1, This is Lundy, priority one command, power up for flight"

     "FR3#1 responding, Flight perimeter is out side of operational specifications."

     "Describe problem." Asked Lundy.

     " FR3#1 responding, the Forager is tumbling faster then the gyro stabilizer system can stabilize the gyro."

     Nikki looks at Lundy, "We have nothing to loose. If we launch the FR3 it may go out into space and never stabilize itself. So then you're out the FR3. If we don't try we will be dead before we can be rescued."

     Lundy agreed, "FR3#1 launch." The FR3 released its hold downs and bounced around the hanger bay like a BB in a box car. Finally bouncing out through the bay door where it did stabilize after a few minutes."

     "FR3 reporting stable flight achieved."

     After a few minutes of cheering Lundy put the FR3 to work. "FR3, locate Forager, and attempt to stabilize."

     The little FR3 accessed a program that was used to slow down fast tumbling asteroids thereby making them easier to prospect. Like the little tug that could FR3#1 expended it's last ounce of fuel slowing the tumbling Forager. Ending its own life spent and tumbling to a crash on the Moon.

     Nikki was very happy with his plan. "It worked, the tumbling has slowed a lot!"

     "You're right, this is much better. But do you want to use the last FR3 to stop the tumbling completely. Or do you want to save it in case we need it over the next three days. I can live with this, but we may run into another problem before we get rescued."

     "You're right, this is much better. We need to save the other FR3."

     On Voyager, Pela and Sibu floated quietly for a minute at the engineering panels, "So, what do you think?" Asked Sibu.

     Another long pause and then Pela looked Sibu straight in the eye, "I think we could have a very rough trip a head of us. Listen to the meteors hitting the ship. The Voyager's meteor protection is based on standard meteors that normally travel at only a small fraction of the speed of light. These meteors are much faster and bigger then anyone ever expected. The outside of this ship is taking one whale of a beating. It's a miracle that we haven't lost more then just the #2 power plant. The haul could be punctured at any second. Mrs. Rodriguez is almost a basket case, and I don't know if there is even going to be enough of this ship left in a month to make the trip home? And to add to the complications, this is only our second day out. Between the boredom and the fear, I don't know which is going to be worse."

     Again the radio came to life as Lundy talked to Agape Station.

     "Agape Station, this is Forager, come in please."

     "Go ahead Forager, Did you just hear the Solar Voyager talking to Dover."

     "Yes I did mate. It sounds like you chaps are lucky to be underground."

     "Yes in deed. The whole Moon is shaking from these meteors. How are your repairs going?"

     "Very slow Stan, we have managed to slow the tumbling, but I just can't figure out how to fix these engines. But I know one thing, we need to get out of here fast. Forager out."

     "Agape Station out."

     "Boy, everyone is just full of good news . . . What do we tell the Rodriguezes?" Asked the Lieutenant.

     "We tell them the truth, but we want to put as positive a spin on it as possible. We need Mrs. Rodriguez in one piece and functioning. It's not going to do her or us any good if we have to put her in a straight jacket or sedate her. We have to keep her mind off everything else, and that means we have to keep her busy. Any questions?"

     "No Sir."

     "Well Lieutenant, it's time for you to earn your bars. You get the Rodriguezes in the storage closet. Try to get Mr. Rodriguez and Juan by themselves a little later and explain to them that we are just trying to keep her mind busy, so they don't think that we're just picking on her."

     "Yes Sir."

     "Ok, Lieutenant move out, and send the Chief back here to me so I can tell him what's going on."

     "Yes Sir," replied the Lieutenant as she turned and threw herself through the air toward the other end of the ship.



Day 3
Helping Others

     Time passed, and the crew of the Solar Voyager suffered through a miserably restless night of thuds, and bangs. Only Mr. Rodriguez and Juan seemed to get a good night's rest.

     "Good morning everyone," announced Juan as he did a flip out of his cabin and into the isle way. "Breakfast smells good, and I'm hungry."

     "Well that's great, spaceman Juan," kidded Mr. Rodriguez. "I had a good night's sleep too. I thought it would be so quiet out in space, but those meteors must have hit the ship all night"

     "How did you sleep, Mrs. Rodriguez?" Asked Lieutenant Sibu.

     "I finally got to sleep early this morning. All that banging, and booming kept me awake, but it got a little quieter early this morning and I got some sleep. It was a lot of excitement for me in the last two days, but I think I feel better now."

     "That's great Mrs. Rodriguez, the last few days have been exciting even for us old time space travelers. You made your first Space Shuttle trip, your first two days in space, your first meteor shower, and your first two days of weightlessness. That's a lot for anyone, but you all did well," encouraged Captain Pela.

     "Yeah, this weightless stuff is great," laughed Juan as he flies up and down the long isle way.

     "I am glad Juan likes it here so much," reflected Mrs. Rodriguez. "I would hate to think that we had come all of this way and he didn't like it."

     "Yes, we were hoping that he could learn some new things. Do you know what I mean Captain?"

     "Yes I do Mrs. Rodriguez. And we are going to make this trip as much fun, and as interesting as we can, isn't that right crew?"

     "Yes Sir," came the instant reply.

     "I'll tell you what, how about if right after breakfast we teach all of you some of the real meat of how this ship works?"

     "Oh Captain, I'm sure it is very nice with all kinds of fancy dancy things, but I think that I will stay here with Mr. Renko, and help him with breakfast if you don't mind. Breakfast I understand, Space ships I don't. This nano-kitchen works just like mine at home."

     "Well Mrs. Rodriguez, that's very kind of you to offer. I'm sure Chief Renko, would love to have some help."

     "Yes Sir," came the Chief's reply with a smile. Everyone understood that it was important for her to feel more at easy. As everyone started to leave the galley Juan breast stroked by Lieutenant Sibu.

     "Juan, I understand that you're good in math."

     "That's right, I get A's in math all of the time," he replied

     "How would you like to see how we navigate this ship," encouraged Lieutenant Sibu.

     "Sure thing, man that's great."

     "Ok everyone now listen up. We still have internal and external experiments, and all the other daily chores to attend to. So you're going to get a real dose of space life today."

     Excitement ran high for several hours even with the occasional meteor strike on the outside of the ship. Juan and Mr. Rodriguez were showing a real aptitude for operating the ship, and were getting quite proficient at radio operations and computer navigation when another power failure hit. Captain Pela stuck his head out of his cabin. While switching an inoperative flash light on and off, he looked back toward engineering.

     "I didn't hear a meteor hit. What happened to the power Chief?"

     "I don't know Sir," started the reply when suddenly the power came back on. "Sir, no one was touching the panels. The power simply went out."

     "What was that, about 10 seconds?" questioned the Captain as Sibu arrived from the internal experiments area with Mr. Rodriguez. "Lets see here, all of the computers are reading their files again, and we can't stop them just like they did after yesterdays power outage. I wonder if we just got hit with one of those nasty gravity waves again."

     Everyone watched the Captain as one of those, I've got this figured out, smiles came over his face and then Renko offered, "Sir, maybe we should hand out chemical lights to everyone if we are going to have these blackouts every few hours."

     "Good thinking Chief, make sure everyone gets two."

     Juan waved his hand and yelled, "can I get them?"

     Renko looked at Juan with a smile, "Ok, get everyone two chemical lights." Juan flew to the forward closet, flapping his arms and making bird noises.

     "Mr. Rodriguez, would you contact Dover for me please?" Asked Captain Pela.

     "Yes Sir," came the reply with a smile as he switched on the radio. "Dover this is the Solar Voyager come in please."

     "Go ahead Voyager, Dover Controller here."

     Mr. Rodriguez nods to the Captain. "Dover this is Captain Pela, we have just had a ten-second power failure on both operational power plants. Our computers are reading their files again like they did yesterday. Stand by Dover. Lieutenant, run a whole ship diagnostic as soon as the computers come back on line."

     "Yes Sir."

     "Dover, have we just been hit by another gravity wave?"

     "Captain, I don't know if it was a gravity wave or not, but I will check on it for you. Our information is that everything is calming down. The meteor shower has slowed to about half what it was at its peak and as of 8:00 Zulu the gravitational wave from outer space was completely back to normal. But I will check with NASA again and get right back to you. Do you need anything else?"

     "Negative Dover, we are checking for damage, but everything looks operational so far. Solar Voyager standing by."

     "Dover Controller, standing by."

     A flushed looking Mrs. Rodriguez floated away from the engineering area toward the galley. "I think it's time for some popcorn."

     "Mrs. Rodriguez, can I help you." Offered Renko.

     "No, that's all right I know where it is." Replied Mrs. Rodriguez but Mr. Rodriguez went with her for support.

     "Sir, the computers have finished the diagnostic. All systems are 100% operational."

     "Thank you Lieutenant." Replied the relieved Captain.

     "Solar Voyager this is the Dover Controller, come in please."

     Captain Pela reached over to the panel and switched the radio on. "Go Dover, Solar Voyager here."

     "I have just talked to NASA about your power lose problem, and the gravity wave situation. They say that the only gravitational wave fluctuation happened yesterday at the beginning of the meteor shower. They now believe that wave was simply the result of some huge collision between two stars that just happened to come through this solar system. They still can't pin down where the star crash happened but they're looking, and they are very interested in anything that you may observe. As for your power lose problem, Mr. Everett has put the engineers on rotating shifts so we will have 24hour engineering coverage for you during your entire trip. He was concerned that things were getting pretty rough out there. He also wants you to know that he will support any decision you make on this trip. If you think that it is too risky to orbit the Moon for the next two weeks and you decide to come straight home, he will understand and support that decision. Anyhow, the engineers would like you to dump copies of your files to us so the engineers can play with the problem on the mock up. You can transmit that as soon as you're ready."

     "Lieutenant, do a copy and transmit to Dover of everything in the ship." Ordered Pela.

     "Yes Sir." responded Lieutenant Sibu as she put the computers to work, "Systems Computer, copy all files and transmit them to Dover."

     "Okay Dover," acknowledged Pela, "here it comes." Several seconds go by as the computers transmit the information to Dover.

     "Affirmative Voyager, we have your transmission." Came the reply from Dover. "Is there anything else we can do for you Voyager?"

     "No Dover, but we do appreciate the information and help."

     "Anytime Voyager . . . Your ever present friend, the Dover Controller standing by."

     "They say Jesus is your every present friend." Noted Renko quietly once the Rodriguezes were out of hearing range.

     "Well, I hope he is along for this trip. We may need Him." Interjected Captain Pela as he moved away from the panel and toward Juan who was handing out chemical lights. "Ok, everyone watch me." Announced Captain Pela. Which bought Mr. & Mrs. Rodriguez back from the galley. "To turn on the chemical light, you grab the tube on both ends and bend it, then shake. That's all there is to it, and we have plenty so keep at least one with you at all times. If you want, you can get some string out of the closet and tie them to your belts. Any questions?" All were quiet, and seemed to understand the simple instructions.

     "Captain, I found a big box of costumes in the closet. What are they used for?" Asked Juan.

     "Well, we are taking them to the Moon for the Exploration Day celebration. On July 20, 1969 the Apollo 11, Eagle lander landed on the Moon. They have a big parade and parties. It is really neat to see all of the people wearing costumes."

     "Agape Station calling the Solar Voyager." Suddenly a loud bang, the ship shook, and then the sounding of the air pressure alarm. The Systems computer made an announcement, "hull pressure alert, hull pressure alert," abruptly interrupted the call from Agape Station.

     "Where's the leak Lieutenant? Juan, get the hull repair kit out of the closet!" Demanded Captain Pela.

     "Agape Station calling the Solar Voyager."

     "Sir, the leak is in Bertha." Replied Sibu.

     "Chief you and me in the Bertha, Juan, hurry with that kit." Yelled Pela, who was notable, excited.

     "Sir, the leak is a quarter P.S.I. per minute." Reported Sibu.

     "Chief, get suited up." Ordered Pela as he took his eyes off the control panel long enough to look around for Renko, and spotted him already suiting up next to the Bertha's hatch.

     "Agape Station calling the Solar Voyager." The voice had become louder.

     "Solar Voyager, this is the Dover Controller. Is there a problem?"

     Captain Pela dove toward Bertha's hatch as Juan comes out of the storeroom with the cylindrical box, "Throw it, Juan!" Yelled the Captain and Juan threw a beautiful spiral pass into his arms. Chief Renko, now fully suited, slammed and locked the hatch as Pela flew through with his spacesuit in hand.

     "Solar Voyager, this is the Dover Controller. Is there a problem? Please respond."

     Sibu quickly reaches over and switched the radio on. "Dover Controller and Agape Station, we have just been hit by a meteor, and have emergency repairs under way. We will get back to you. Solar Voyager out!"

     The radio went stone cold dead except for some static. The way radios do when friends listen for friends. Though Bertha's hatch window they each took turns watching the two men make the repair over the next hour.

     "Solar Voyager, this is Bertha." Came the Captain's voice over the ship intercom. "Can you transfer some air over to us?"

     "Affirmative Bertha here it comes." Responded Sibu relieved to finally hear from them. After several minutes of air hissing the transfer was complete.

     "Ok Voyager, that should do it. We're coming back." The hatch opened and the two men climbed out taking off their space suits.

     "How was it Captain?" Asked Juan.

     "It was a typical leak Juan. You have to move half the stuff in the universe and stand upside down in a bucket of mud to fix a leak the size of a pencil point."

     Chief Renko smiled and nodded. "But we fixed it real good."

     "Sir, the Dover Controller and Agape Station both called, and I told them we would get back to them when our repairs were done."

     "Ok, thanks Lieutenant." Pela switched the radio on as he worked his way out of his suit. "Dover Controller, this is the Solar Voyager, come in please."

     "Go Voyager." Came the instant reply.

     "I understand that you called while we were repairing a small meteor hole in Bertha."

     "I was just checking to see why you weren't responding to your call from Agape Station. I thought that I should find out what was going on."

     "Well, we appreciate that Dover Controller, but we are fully operational now. By the way, have you got any more information on our power problem."

     "No, I don't Voyager, but I'll let you know as soon as I do."

     "Very good Dover, Solar Voyager out."

     "Dover out."

     "Agape Station, this is the Solar Voyager, come in please."

     "Agape Station here." Came the accented voice. "We are glad to hear that you are alright."

     "Thanks Stan, we're glad we're ok too." Commented the Captain with a laugh. "What can we do for you?"

     "Captain, we have a couple of problems. We over heard your conversation with your Dover Controller. Are you going to enter orbit and complete your mission, or are you going straight home?"

     "Well Stan, right now I am leaning toward going home. I was going to jettison your supply spacetainer into orbit around the Moon as we sling shot the Voyager back to Earth, and then deliver it to Agape Station on a future trip if you don't mind. What do you think?"

     "I certainly understand why you would want to do that, but that spacetainer has some parts and supplies that we really do need very badly, right now! I know that this is a very dangerous mission, but we have two real big problems. First, The Forager still does not have propulsion, and we are going to have a very serious problem here if we can't get him on his way home. When you combine his very erratic orbit with the new meteors that are now in orbit. And then add a large ship like your's that will be here tomorrow. Well my friend, we will have the formula for a disaster. So I thought that you might be willing to help us get him on his way, by sending Bertha here today. We also need you to put the spacetainer that you're carrying into one of our garage doorways. I know that you normally leave the spacetainer on the landing pad. But that means that we have to send unprotected people out in this meteor shower to bring it into the garage. We thought that you could do a computer controlled landing on pad #3, just like you normally do. Then drive off of the pad the 300ft. to door #1 and push the end of the spacetainer through the doorway. We can get it from there. I know that I am asking you to do something that no sane person would do, but we are as beat up as you are. By sending the Bertha with the spacetainer now, you can save lots of lives and still go home. What do you think?"

     "Stand by Stan, I want to talk it over with my people." He switched off the radio and turned to Sibu. "Well what do you think? This is already the most dangerous mission I have ever seen. Can you take the Voyager home if something happens to me?"

     Sibu agreed but with real reservations, "Sure, I can get the Voyager home. But regulations require that you stay with the Voyager, and the second in command gets all dangerous side missions."

     "I can't ask you to do this. This is way beyond any normal mission."

     "I know," replied Sibu, "but I can do this. And someone is going to get killed if I don't. I can take the spacetainer and drop it off, then go to the Forager and boost them home. As soon as that is done, I will go into orbit and wait for you to show up tomorrow. I can't picked up the ingots because I will be real low on fuel, but I can do this!"

     Pela questioned Sibu again, "Are you real sure that you want this mission? Bertha was never designed as an off road vehicle. It's one thing to drive Bertha around on a nice flat landing pad with a heavy load. But I don't think that it is going to handle ruts and bumps very well at all."

     "I am positive. I can't leave these people here like this." Replied Sibu.

     Pela typed on the computer for a minute and then switched the radio back on. "Ok Stan, It's going to take Sibu about three hours to get there, but she's on her way."

     "Thanks Solar Voyager, I'll tell the Forager, when they come back around to this side of the Moon. Agape Station out."

     "Solar Voyager out." Pela switched the radio off and turned to Sibu. "Well Lieutenant, get your stuff together. You should get going."

     "Yes Sir," came the reply with a smile. This was a big event for Sibu, and she was pleased to have the opportunity to show her stuff. Several minutes go by as she loads Bertha and goes through the checklist. "Solar Voyager this is Bertha, come in please."

     "Go ahead Captain Sibusiso, This is the Solar Voyager, Lieutenant Rodriguez here." Giggled Juan.

     "Boy it didn't take you guys long to find a replacement for me." A little laugh was heard over the radio and then Mr. Rodriguez asked if Sibu was ready to leave.

     "Yes I am, and in fact standby Solar Voyager Bertha will disengage in just a moment." A small jerk and Bertha was free flying.

     Bertha moved to the front end of Voyager and mounted two, snap on propulsion units to the spacetainer to help control the heavy load, then picked up the spacetainer and turning in the direction of the Moon. "Okay guys, I will see you tomorrow."

     "Good luck Lieutenant, and remember there are no extra points for crashing into any rocks that are flying around out there." Joked Captain Pela knowing that she was doing something very dangerous.

     As everyone watched through the window Bertha's main engine erupted in an enormous outburst of power and flashed into the distance.

     Mrs. Rodriguez came out of the internal experiments lab and looked around for the Captain. "Captain Pela I have just been in the lab straightening up, when I noticed that two of the cages are open. Are they suppose to be open?"

     "Let me see Mrs. Rodriguez." The Captain followed Mrs. Rodriguez back into the lab. Where she showed him that the doors of two small containers, where open. "Well lets look these up on the charts. Test #1243 contains six Earth Worms designed to see if they can live in zero gravity." Mr. Rodriguez came around the corner with Juan, and Juan asked. "What's going on Mom?"

     "I found two cages open. And we're looking to see if anything got out."

     "Mr. Rodriguez could you help us for a few minutes." Asked the Captain.

     "Sure"

     "Would you count the worms in here while I check this other cage?"

     "Sure thing Captain."

     "Okay, and the other one is #2657, . . . one highly dangerous specially developed North American Black Widow spider for use with experiment #2658. Use extreme caution . . . and it's gone. We have a problem!"

     "Captain all the worms are here." Reported Mr. Rodriguez.

     "Thank you Mr. Rodriguez, we certainly wouldn't want them to get away. Now would we?" commented the Captain sarcastically.

     "No Sir, I counted them. They are all there."

     "We need to find this spider and kill it. Do not try to capture it. Just kill it. Everyone spread out and look everywhere." Over the next two hours the crew takes the ship apart with no luck. The lab is completely disassembled and reassembled. And always, in the background is the unnerving thud of meteors against the ship. Minutes seem like hours as the crew wearied from the search. Captain Pela encountered Mr. Rodriguez in the galley.

     "Captain, we have looked everywhere and still have not found it. The meteor hits are getting so bad again that the whole ship is shaking."

     "Solar Voyager, this is Sibu can you see these two ships blasting each other out here."

     Several seconds go by as everyone on the Solar Voyager gathers around the monitors in engineering. As the mast cameras swing around a space battle was reviled between two unknown space ships. A small fast ship attacking a large black ship in orbit around the Moon. The small ship kept firing beams of energy at the large ship causing large explosions but no damage. The large ship seemed to have a halo or invisible protective shield all-round that could only be seen as an energy beam exploded on the surface of the shield.

     Captain Pela suddenly realized, "We're not being hit by meteors. We're being shook by the shock waves from the explosions." Pela switched the radio on, "Sibu, are you Okay?"

     "Yes Sir, but these explosions are really bouncing me around. I don't know what they're using for weapons but they're about to shake my teeth out."

     "Lieutenant keep your distance. You don't want to get mixed up in that mess."

     "Don't worry Captain, I'm going around to the other side of the Moon where it's safe."

     "Affirmative Sibu . . . Solar Voyager calling Dover."

     "Dover Controller here, what's going on up there?"

     "Dover, turn on your video recorders we're sending you some pictures. Call NASA and find out who owns these ships then call the State Department and see if a truce can be called before civilians get hurt."

     "This is a special announcement from Agape Station," suddenly interrupts Captain Pela. "As of 2:38 Zulu today an intense battle has been raging between two space ships in lunar orbit. These ships are using high-powered energy beam weapons. We recommend that all ships avoid the Moon at all cost. The Moon is being saturated by extremely strong electromagnetic fields that are burning out equipment. No landings are permitted at Agape Station at this time. As the battle orbits around the Moon other stations and ships may have similar problem. Magnetic shock waves from the explosions have crushed a pressurized entranceway and disabled all surface vehicles. We have many injuries! Agape Station out!"

     Captain Pela floats back away from the Engineering Panel. The situation was serious and you could see it on his face. Pela reached over and switched on the radio, "Pela to Sibu, what is your situation Lieutenant?"

     "Captain I'm pushing this new propulsion unit for everything it's got, but I'm still 20 minutes from Agape Station."

     "Lieutenant that battle is coming around the Moon right on your tail so you had better bend the bolts Lieutenant! Do not stop for lunch. Come in low and slow and do a real light bomb drop of the Spacetainer onto their doorstep, then get out of there."

     "Yes Sir, She is flat out."

     "Dover this is Pela what's going on down there? Can't you guys get this stopped? What's the State Department doing?"

     "Voyager, the State Department is not doing anything because they don't know who's fighting. No one has claimed either ship. The State Department has turned the situation over to the Pentagon and they want all the information you can get. As far as anyone knows, those ships are not from this Solar System. What they're doing here is unknown and the Pentagon is really worried. Voyager, turn on all of your cameras and leave them on. Direct transmit everything to earth as long as possible. At least a dozen receivers are listening to everything you transmit. Try to get as many pictures of the ships and the battle as possible. We are working on your problem at the highest levels, even the President knows about your situation. At this time you are the only operational ship near the Moon. The Engineers want you to button up, and forget the Titanium ingots. Go ahead and open the sail to pick up some speed. When you get to the back side of the Moon tomorrow close the sail and use Bertha, if it's still operational, along with all your thrusters to come immediately home. Do not enter lunar orbit. Calculate a new trajectory that will give you the maximum sling shot back to Earth." Pela dropped his head for a second and then looked up at Mrs. Rodriguez as he drifted back against the wall, the situation was real bad, and there was no hiding it. My mom told me not to stop praying. She said that someday I would need God's help.

Mrs. Rodriguez glowed with a big smile, "Now aren't you glad that I'm here, lets pray." They all held hands and Mrs. Rodriguez led the prayer, "Father, we come before you knowing that you are El Oheim, the great creator and doer of miracles. Father, we pray that you would forgive each of us of our sins. We pray that you would help us in this situation and return this world to peace and safety. We pray and thank you Father in Jesus name."

     . . . Chief Renko went to the Navigation Computer and calculated the new trajectory. "Sir, the new trajectory is loaded and the sail controller has been told to open the sail."

     "Ok Chief, engage the new program."

     Scary minutes passed as everyone realized that the Voyager had to fly right through the battle to go home.

     Voyager surged as the thrusters moved her to the new trajectory.

     "Sir, we're on the new course," announced Chief Renko.

     "Thanks Chief," Captain Pela switched the radio on again, "Pela to Sibu."

     "Sibu here, go ahead Voyager."

     "Get ready to receive the Solar Voyagers new trajectory. You will need it to find us when you are done with Forager."

     "Affirmative Voyager." Several seconds go by as switches clicked in the background. "Go ahead Voyager" . . . several more seconds then, "Thanks Voyager, I'm about half a mile from Agape Station, slowing to 300knots. The computer maneuvered Bertha and her load smartly to a fast touch down. Switching to manual control." The thrusters could be heard firing in the background then a loud bang. "Man Stan, You guys could grade the ground around the pad a little. There is a big rut right around the edge."

     "Sorry about that. Our surface vehicles have never had a problem with it."

     Sibu looked out of her side window just in time to notice a small meteor impact the surface right in front of the door she was heading for, several seconds later everything was sprayed with tons of ejecta. "We have a big problem people! I'm stuck! I have the only spaceship in history to get stuck in a rut. I'm stuck right at the edge of the landing pad. By the way, that last meteor not only put a big crater right in front of the door, but it also caved in the doorway a little.

     "Lieutenant Sibu, This is the Dover Controller. Be advised that we just got an updated manifest on that spacetainer. It has a case of explosives in it. It was added to the load it the last second, and with all of the power failures the updated manifest just got here."

     "Pela voice resounded over the radio. "My God! Meteors have been hitting us for four days. And we had a case of explosives sitting on the forespar the whole time?"

     Stan interrupts, "You carry explosives to us all the time. They will not explode. They have to be detonated by an electric current or extreme heat."

     "Stan, think about what is going on. What do you get when you pass a metal object, like a spaceship, through an electromagnetic field like those aliens are using? You get electricity! What do you get when a meteor hits something? Lots of heat!"

     Stan replies. "Okay, so we have a real problem, and you're about to give it to me!"

     "Stan, you did order the explosives. Well Stan, they're here!" exclaimed Sibu, "Now what do we do with them?" Sibu thought for a second. "Okay Stan here it comes. I'll fly the Spacetainer into one of your garage doorways. You have someone open it and take out the explosives. They put the explosives outside, and I'll dump them somewhere. How's that?" The sound of thruster could easily be heard in the background as Bertha started to lift its load."

     Less then a second later a meteor hit the spacetainer and detonated the explosives throwing it's contents everywhere. Bertha, still holding the mangled end of the container tumbled across the surface and crashed onto its side.

     Stan saw the whole thing happen on his monitor, and couldn't believe his eyes. "Sibu, are you Okay?"

     A few long seconds go by and Sibu replies, "Yeah, I think so, but Bertha is on her side."

     Stan was very excited. "Man what an explosion! What a crash!"

     Pela unable to see what had happened became very concerned. "What's going on? Sibu are you okay?"

     "Yes I'm fine, but this container is history. A meteor hit it and detonated the explosives. Bertha and I are on our side. Hold on a minute and I will try." Just then all of the equipment started to go crazy."

     Pela looked at his equipment for a second and got back on the radio. "Shut down all of your equipment for the next ten minutes the battle is flying over you. Shut down all of your equipment for the next ten minutes the battle is flying over you. Immediately everyone shut down everything." It seemed like an eternity to everyone. Especially Sibu, who was pinned down by the spacetainer and was not sure how badly Bertha was damaged.

     Even as far away as Voyager was the electromagnetic fields were threatening to damage equipment. With lights flashing, alarms sounding, and all of the animal noises, Pela did what was necessary. "Okay people, turn on your chem lights. We're shutting down too. Chief shut it all down, now!" As each switch was flipped Voyager got darker. Soon all that could be seen was the green glow of the chem lights.

     "Is everyone Ok?" Asked Pela. All responses were positive. We only have to be shut down for ten minutes, then we will turn everything back on." Pela's respect for the Rodriguezes was growing by the minute.

     "Captain, is there anything that we can do to help," Asked Mr. Rodriguez.

     "I appreciate the offer Mr. Rodriguez, but we just need to wait for the battle to move further away. Agape Station and Sibu are only a few miles from the battle. I just hope that they haven't lost any major systems. The strength of the magnetic field is stronger the closer you are."

     It was very eerie to watch the equipment turn itself on and off. "These huge magnetic fields are inducing so much electricity into the ship's wiring that some of the lights are trying to turn on even when the switch is off," explained Pela. "If too much electricity is induced into the wiring it will start to burn out equipment, and then we will have a problem."

     Finally the conflict moved out of range. Turmoil and confusion was replaced by the eerie glow of five small green lights.

     "Okay Chief," ordered Pela, "Lets see if we can just get the lights to come on."

     Renko reached up and flipped a switch. "Power Plant #1 is on and the power levels are coming up" . . . Another switch is flipped and the lights came on.

     "Good work Chief," encouraged Juan. Everyone seemed glad to see the lights.

     "Ok Chief turn on one radio," ordered Pela, "Let's see if anyone else is still out there."

     Renko switched on a radio, "This is Solar Voyager is anyone out there? Please respond."

     "Voyager, This is Dover. What is your situation?"

     "Dover, it is good to here your voice. We are still turning systems on. The magnetic fields were so strong that our equipment was trying to come on even when it was turned off. There has got to be lots of damage on the Moon. Please stand by, we are going to try to help them." Renko turned to Pela, "Lets turn it all on."

     "Go for it," was Pela's response, and both men started to turn Voyager's complex systems on. After several minutes Pela switched the radio on again. "Sibu, this is the Solar Voyager please respond . . . Sibu, this is the Solar Voyager please respond . . . Sibu, please respond . . . Will anyone on the Moon please respond . . .

     "Anyone please respond, this is Lt. Sibu in Bertha. I have crashed on the Moon. Anyone please respond."

     Pela responded immediately, "We're here Lieutenant. What is your situation?"

     Well, everything seems to be coming back on. She has been exploded, rolled in the dirt, saturated in magnetic energy, hit with meteors, and a bunch of other stuff. And she is turning on! They may call her Bertha, but she is Big Bertha to me! This is one tough little ship!"

     "Agape Station here, glad to see you are still in one piece. We are having some problems with our ventilation system. The spare parts were in that container. We are going to have to evacuate if we can't figure out how to fix it soon. Its thirty miles in the open, in a meteor shower, with families to the nearest station. We have a real problem here! Lieutenant, We are going to try to get you going again so that you can fly the children out of here."

     "That is a great thought Stan, but I'm not going anywhere with this container laying on me."

     "Okay, lets think about this," commented Stan. You could almost see him in your mind, scratching his head and petting his little dog. "I would send a crane or big vehicle out to you, but they are all damaged."

     "Stan, this is Pela. Can you batch your outside camera picture through to me? Maybe if we could see what is going on we could come up with an idea."

     "You got it." Stan hit some switches, and in seconds everyone on Voyager was trying to rescue Sibu."

     Juan had the first suggestion, "Use the side thrusters to take off a little and then pull the arm out."

     But Renko didn't think that would work. "Good thought Juan, but the side maneuvering thrusters are too small to lift that big load."

     Then Mrs. Rodriguez hit on a good idea while talking to Mr. Rodriguez. "Do you remember what they did to rescue your cousin Sylvia when the tree fell on her? They could not get her out. It was a very big tree. They could not lift it so they pushed it and turned it a little, and she came right out. Can Sibu push that thing sideways?"

     "Lieutenant, Mrs. Rodriguez wants to know if you can push and spin the container sideways a little."

     "One way to find out." Sibu started pushing on one side of the container, and spun it around a little. The arm came right out. "Mrs. Rodriguez, I love you. Someone get her a big bag of popcorn on me." Everyone got a chuckle out of the comment," . . . Now all I have to do is get Bertha standing up." Sibu pulled the arm in close along side, and attempted to stand Bertha up with a straight arm push to the side. While Bertha did start to stand up, it did not go far enough to stay in the up right position. "Now what? It wouldn't stay up."

     Pela spotted the problem, "Sibu, retract your handing gear! You're handing gear has picked up the bottom of Bertha too high."

     "Okay, I can't see what you're talking about, but I will try anything." Sibu retracted the handing gear and tried again. "It worked! I am sitting up again! Now! Will it fly?" With a firm hand on the controls Big Bertha lifted off and hovered a few feet off the ground. "I have a space ship again! Thank you Mrs. Rodriguez, thank you Jesus, and thank you too captain." The radio was filled with cheers for several minutes as Sibu maneuvered Bertha around the destroyed container. "Stan there are several boxes laying around out here that still look good. I'm going to bring them to the doorways. Maybe you can still get something out of this load."

     "We will take anything that you can find. I will have people at the doors to get the boxes." Sibu delivered several boxes and then started digging around in the remains of the spacetainer itself. "Hey Stan! Can you use a big crate that is marked EMERGENCY PARTS FOR AGAPE STATION."

     "You bet I can."

     "Well here it comes!" And another round of cheers could be heard. As Sibu laid the crate in the doorway she noticed the fuel gauge. Stan, I am sorry to say it, but this fuel gauge says that it is time to go help the guys on the Forager."

     "Lieutenant, we can't repay you. You are a full blown hero here!"

     "Glad to help Stan. I'm outa here!"

     As Bertha climbed from the surface under full power Sibu looked for her next project. . . . "Forager; I'm on my way! Put on your space suits. Sibu out."

     Back on Voyager, Pela drifted back from the panel.

     "Captain," interjected Mr. Rodriguez, "are you going to tell Dover about the Spider?"

     The Captain looked at Mr. Rodriguez and smiled. What else could he do as he reached for the radio switch. "Dover this is the Solar Voyager, come in please."

     "Go ahead Solar Voyager."

     "Dover, The Black Widow spider in experiment #2657 has escaped. We think the canister was accidentally knocked open by a meteor impact, and we would like to know what the antidote is if someone gets bit?"

     "Affirmative Solar Voyager, I will check on it. Can I do anything else for you?"

     "No thanks Dover, that will be all. Solar Voyager out."

     "Dover out."

     "Well folks," announced the Captain, "we should all be careful where we put our hands, and what we lean on. This spider could be anywhere. If you find it, just kill it. Do not take any chances." As the Captain talked, he looked at each face. The strain of an extraordinarily rough trip could easily be seen on each face.

     "Captain."

     "Yes Mrs. Rodriguez."

     "We only have two bags of popcorn left." Captain Pela was so surprised by Mrs. Rodriguez's comment, considering all the other problems they where having, that he broke into a small laugh and gave Mrs. Rodriguez a big hug.

     "Captain," interjected Renko, "Perhaps Mrs. Rodriguez would like to join me at the galley table for another movie."

     "You know Chief, after all this floating it will feel good to sit." Acknowledged Mrs. Rodriguez.

     Juan and Captain Pela returned to the lab to make sure that all of the systems were operating correctly. While in the background, the radio was busy with calls for help from several other ships.

     "Forager this is Sibu in Bertha, I'm about 5 minutes out. This is going to be the fastest salvage job in history."

     "Great Lieutenant," replied Nikki, "when you get here, could you quickly take some pictures of the ship? I think we have a big mess up here. We have tried everything to start these engines and nothing works. We even tried to by pass all of our computers, but everything acts like there isn't even any engines, back there."

     "Sure thing boys, but this is going to be fast!"

     Chime. "This is a NASA announcement," interrupted the radio, "as of 13:00 Zulu. Space Station Freedom will be temporarily abandoned. Anyone wishing Scramjet transportation back to Earth should contact NASA on this channel at least seventy-two hours in advance. Near Earth Tow Motor services are still available by remote control from Earth, NASA out." Chime.

     Back on Bertha, Sibu sniffs the air and recognizes the smell of popcorn. "You can sure tell where Mrs. Rodriguez has been." Sibu never noticing the Black Widow spider drift past her hand, and cling to her sleeve. It slowly craws up her sleeve to the back of her neck. Seemingly tore between biting Sibu and finding something more interesting, the spider sat for several seconds and then moves onto her shoulder. The spider then jumped from Sibu's shoulder to the console and attacked another undetected escapee, a caterpillar.

     While back in Solar Voyager's lab Juan was helping Captain Pela check more of the experiments.

     "Sir, the door on #4376 is loose. It looks like some kind of caterpillar."

     "Let me see here," commented the Captain as he searches through the pile of papers, "there should be four Silk Worms in there."

     "No Sir, there are only three," replied Juan.

     Captain Pela shrugged his shoulder, "Well, at least they're not dangerous. I can't believe that we didn't find it in our search either. Maybe the spider and silk worm got sucked into the ventilation system. Well, lets check the rest of the experiments."

     As Bertha closed in on the Forager, Nikki directed her in, "Lieutenant, we have you insight."

     "Well Nikki, when you guys say that you don't have any control, you're not kidding. The Forager is in a slow rolling tumble that has got to be hard to deal with. Ok boys, here comes your pictures, but your not going to like what you see." The discussion quickly turns to a three-foot diameter meteor that hit Forager just below the pressurized cabin and went down through the engine cluster. "While your watching your monitors strap yourselves in and I'll try to stop the tumbling."

     "I for one would sincerely appreciate some stability," Commented Lundy, "trying to do anything under these conditions is unbelievable. I say you must truly be a marvelous lady to come all the way out here on a day like this to help us."

     "Anything to help a friend. It's a long walk home. If you know what I mean."

     "Yes I do indeed," replied Lundy.

     Several minutes of dangerous maneuvering and several loud bangs go by, as Sibu tries to grab Forager without causing more damage.

     "Guys, there doesn't seem to be anyway around it. I'm going to have to dive right in and grab you."

     "Go for it, Lieutenant," Nikki replied.

     "Okay boys hold on tight, here I come."

     A sudden bang and the Forager lurched side ways. "That's it, I got it." Shouts a rather surprised Sibu as she fired the thrusters to bring the new assemblage under control.

     "We knew you could do it." Exclaimed Nikki and Lundy simultaneously.

     "Okay Boys give me a second to get a better grip and I'll give you a boost to Earth."

     "You had better do it fast Lieutenant I can see those alien ships and their coming this way." Announced a very nervous Nikki.

     Suddenly there was an enormous explosion in the distance, the small alien ship disappeared in a huge fireball. The profound quiet was at once a blessing and at the same time gave notice that someone else could be next.

     "Hold on to your teeth boys, we're getting out of here NOW!"

     In one motion Bertha again grabbed the crippled Forager and streaked over the lunar surface. Bertha's large engines pushing the assemblage around the Moon and toward Earth.

     "Gentlemen, I'm going to have to leave you now. The Tow Motors in orbit around Earth will pick you up in a couple of days. Have a nice trip home."

     The appreciation that Nikki and Lundy had for Sibu couldn't be adequately expressed and all Nikki could say was, "Thanks Lieutenant, we owe you . . . a big one!"

     "You can say that again mate!" Agreed Lundy.

     "Don't even think about it, you would have done the same thing for me and more. Have a good trip. Sibu out."

     Sibu releases Forager and then spends a few minutes on the navigation computer. "Sibu to the Solar Voyager, come in please."

     "Go Sibu, Pela here."

     "Captain I'm in a good position to swing around and meet you in a couple of hours."

     "Very good Sibu, It'll be good to see you again."

     As the hours slipped away Bertha approached Solar Voyager.

     "Solar Voyager this is Sibu."

     "Renko here Lieutenant"

     "Chief, I'll be there in 5 minutes."

     Pela breaks in, "Great job Lieutenant, you just did a good days work for an average Super Hero!"

     Sibu laughs, "Well I try to help where I can."

     "Well Lieutenant, before the band starts and the Queen gives you you're metal, I would like you to do a damage assessment of Solar Voyager please. We still seem to be up to our ears in alligator if you know what I mean."

     "Yes Sir, stand by." Several minutes of maneuvering go by. "Be advised the # 3 Foreline has broken off at the motor and is floating around loose on that end. The sails look like a piece of Swiss cheese. The #2 Power Plant is gone, and the #3 external experiment Pallet is damaged, the ship has dings and dents all over, but she is still a good-looking ship . . . I guess that covers it . . . Sibu requesting permission to come aboard."

     "Permission granted Lieutenant."



Day 4
The Encounter

     "Solar Voyager this is General Wilks from the Pentagon, please respond." Several seconds go by as Captain Pela forces down a mouth full of food, and turns on the radio.

     "Go ahead General Wilks, This is Captain Pela. What can we do for you?"

     "Captain, what is your situation?"

     "Well general, everything is very quiet. There has been no activity at all from the alien ship, but he may still be licking his wounds from yesterday. We are about an hour from going behind the Moon and starting our trip home. We're just praying that things stay quiet for a few more hours and then we will be out of here!"

     "Captain, I would like you to change your plans and enter Lunar orbit. We want you to become our observation post for the alien ship."

     "Dream on General, I have three civilians on board. A ship that's beat to with in an inch of its life. My executive Office just flew a rescue mission that will probably get her metals from at least two countries. Bertha is low on fuel and my crew is dead tired. You're crazy if you think I'm sticking around here!"

     "Captain, We need a warning and information system that can help us protect Earth if the aliens decide to attack and you are in the perfect position."

     "General, the Solar Voyager is not some fancy high powered weapons platform. We're a simple unarmed ore freighter. We have no weapons at all, not even a water pistol. What can we do?"

     "You can go over and get a close look at their ship."

     "Good bye General, you're crazy if you think I'm going over there. I saw what they did to their last neighbors."

     "Wait Captain, think about this, Earth is a sitting duck. I know that you have civilians but think about all the civilians on Earth. You can help them by waiting two more weeks to come home. Another ship will be there in two weeks to relieve you.

     Captain Pela looked at Mrs. Rodriguez and she spoke, "Captain, these space guys might be bad hombres. We need to help the people of Earth."

     Mr. Rodriguez, Juan, Sibu and Renko each nodded agreement.

     "I want all of you to understand that this is not going to be some Sunday school picnic. We could all be killed in one huge explosion. It's going to mean around the clock watches, and we will have to do some major maintenance by ourselves."

     "Sir," interjected Renko, "This is very important, We need to stay and watch the alien ship."

     Juan, Sibu, and Mr. Rodriguez all agreed, and the decision was made.

     "General, I want you to understand that we are out here in the middle of no where, and we are low on fuel and supplies. If you expect us to stay out here, you're going to have to get some supplies to us."

     "You name it Captain and you've got it, as fast as we can get it to you. We are already working on your fuel problem."

     Pela turned to Sibu, "Okay Lieutenant, nice and slow, lay in a course change that will put us about a mile from the alien ship, nothing fancy, and no fast moves. Chief pull a supply list together for the General and make sure it has fuel, a new Supply pod #2 with the mineral pack for the nano-food processors, a new #2 Power Plant module, something to kill that spider, and anything else anyone wants. You also need to do an inspection of the #3 Foreline to determine what it will take to accomplish repairs. Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez, please help Renko with the list." Pela muttering to himself said, "My mother in-law already thinks I'm crazy, wait until she hears about this?" And everyone smiles.

     Sibu quickly typed the new course command into the computer; "Sir the new course is laid in."

     "Good Lieutenant, engage."

     "The Solar Voyager shook for a few seconds as the thrusters changed the ship's course, and each person quietly questioned their sanity."

     "Sir we have achieved the new trajectory, as we come around to the other side of the Moon, the alien ship will be one mile behind us." Reported Lieutenant Sibu.

     Everyone watched the monitors as the Solar Voyager drifts past the front of the alien ship and enters orbit. Renko turns slowly from the monitor and suddenly lunges at Juan, "Don't do that! Renko grabs Juan's hand and turns off the laser range finder. Juan, do not point the laser range finder at that ship. They may think that it is a weapon. They may shoot at us!"

     Juan still shaken from Renko's grab apologized, "I was just playing."

     "I know Juan but they are not playing. If we do the wrong thing they will kill us all. We must be very careful about everything that we do. No more playing!" demanded Pela.

     Several seconds go by as everyone calmed down. Pela nods to Renko, "What was the reading?"

     Renko looks down at the range finder and say, "1.59 km"

     "I'm surprised that the laser beam wasn't reflected by his shield", pointed out Pela.

     "Unless he has turned off his shield", came the General's voice from the radio.

      Pela turns to the radio and shook his head, "Okay General, you now have one rather beat up observation post frayed nerves and all, on duty. We will leave all our cameras and one voice channel on continuous direct feed to Earth."

     "Captain, you and your crew are performing a very important service for the people of Earth."

     "General, you owe us a big one! This is the Solar Voyager standing by on an open line."

     "The Pentagon Situation Room standing by."

     Several minutes go by and then, "Solar Voyager, This is Dover."

     "Dover this is Juan, hold on a minute Captain Pela is coming". . . . "Dover, Pela here. What's up?"

     "Captain we have some bad news about that spider. It is attracted to the smell of the cleaning chemicals that were used on your flight suits, and the color blue. You have to get out of your flight suits and put something else on."

     "Great, now what do we wear?" Pela looked over at Mrs. Rodriguez. "Do you folks have anything else to wear?"

     "No, they told us to just wear these flight suits."

     Then Juan had an idea. "Captain, we have those costumes in the closet."

     "Good thinking Juan. Okay everyone, Now hear this! We have to get out of these flight suits. This is an order, there will be no exceptions, and the Rodriguezes are to go to the closet pick three costumes and put them on. Sibu and Renko will go next and I will take what ever is left. Sibu and Renko will collect all flight suits, even the spares, and put them in the jettison chamber but leave the chamber open for now. Maybe we can get the spider to go into the chamber if we leave it open for a while. In an hour or two we will close the chamber and jettison suits. Any questions?" There was no response. "Okay, do it!"

     The Rodriguezes quickly went to the closet and within minutes they looked like a three person Star Trek convention. Sibu and Renko became a bird and a caveman. Pela called everyone together and inspected his crew. "Well I have to say that this is the strangest looking crew that I have ever had. I hope that you left me something good to wear." At which point the crew simply looked at each other and smiled. Several minutes later Pela came out of his cabin shaking his head. "All that was left was a clown costume. I'm going to get that spider!" Many one liner went threw their minds but no one said a thing.

     After a few hours of staring at the unchanging picture on the monitors, the mind numbing boredom of standing a watch had just about put everyone to sleep.

     Pela turned to discuss a watch schedule with Sibu as a huge explosion and burst of light filled the Solar Voyager with several seconds of screaming and confusion. Again everyone gathered around the monitors to watch the fight of the century. This time three small alien ships had ganged up on the large ship with a real vengeance. The attack went on for twenty minutes or more without the large ship firing a shot. The invisible halo that formed the protective shield around the large ship glowed for a second each time it was hit.

     "Well we know the shield is working now." Observed Sibu. "They seemed totally uninterested in anything the small ships are doing." Then something very curious happened.

     The small alien ships where coming very close to the Solar Voyager during their attacks on the large ship. At one point, a small ship blasted a large hole in Solar Voyager's sail and then flew through the hole causing real fear that the Solar Voyager was under attack. This seemed to be the one thing that got the large ships attention, within a few seconds; the large ship destroyed all three of the small ships. It only took three shots but each shot was more powerful then all of the small ships put together.

     Several seconds of silence filled the Solar Voyager as the sudden outburst of firepower sunk in at a personal level.

     "Solar Voyager," General Wilk's voice came over the radio, "What is your situation?"

     Pela dropped his head and shook it. "This guy just doesn't go away."

     "I forgot that he was listening," acknowledged Sibu.

     "Well General, we're just hanging around the Galaxy out here, taking in the view," came a rather sarcastic reply from Pela, "and, by the way General, we have a nice new hole in our solar sail that's rather attractive. Why, do you want us to get closer?"

     "Well yes, now that you mention it, that would be nice. How much closer would you feel comfortable with?"

     "Boy has this guy got nerve!" snipped Sibu at the General's request.

     Pela shook his head and managed a forced grin. As he turned to Mrs. Rodriguez he saw the first smile, he had seen on her since the trip started.

     "What are you grinning about?" he asked with a confused look on his face.

     "Oh nothing, I just have something important to do. People need to be needed, Captain. This is very important, and that makes me feel good."

     Her comments surprised everyone and seemed to ignite a new spark in the group. After a few minutes of conversation Pela replied to the General's question. "General, I really don't think that we should get any closer. We're right in the middle of the fighting now! Getting any closer is just going to get the Voyager blown up! And besides that, there is the little problem of their shield. We can't get much closer anyhow."

     "Can't two of you go over in Bertha and get a little closer?"

     "No General, two of us can't go over there because I am not going to throw anyone's life away."

     "Captain, do you know why this king of the outer space prize fighters is here?" Asked Wilks.

     "No."

     "We don't either, and we do have some big question. Understand me clearly, we want friendly relationships with everyone! We are not looking for trouble, but it is my job to defend this country against any possible trouble. Have any of you ever heard of the Drake Equation?

A group, "No" responded from Voyager.

"In 1961 Frank Drake, an astronomer, developed the Drake Equation. The equation gives you a rough idea of how many intelligent societies there are in the galaxy. At the present time astronomer have to guess at some of the variables in the equation. But, with what we know today, the number comes out somewhere around ten thousand intelligent societies in this galaxy. That sounds like a lot of people, but it is not really a problem unless they start moving around. I mean a galaxy is a big place with about two hundred billion stars. But you need to ask yourself what would make people move across such large distances. We believe that there are four main reasons: exploration, economics, conquest, and self-preservation. All of which could be bad news for us. We are dealing with a society that is a lot more advanced then we are. Are they exploring to take what everyone else has? Will they destroy our economy to help theirs, or will they just conquer us? These are real tough questions. But the toughest one is self-preservation, what to do with advance refugees. Why did they leave their home planet? Are they at war? Do they have some disease? Scientist think that there are one to two novas, or star explosions, every hundred years in each galaxy. The solar systems that are near a nova are the oldest and most advanced. An advance society much older then ours would have set up colonies in near by solar systems. Can you imagine an entire advance society that is forced to leave not only its own solar system, but all of the near by solar systems too. Where do you take several planets of advanced refugees? Most likely, they would depart in several waves in every direction. They understand that no one planet can take all of them, especially if it is already inhabited. Some people would leave at the first sign of trouble. Some would wait a little while hoping that things would get better, and when they don't, then they would leave. Some wait until the last second. Which group do we have here? Apparently they have enemies. Do we need to be their friend, or their enemy, Captain?"

     "Captain," interjected Mrs. Rodriguez, "God says, My people parish for a lack of knowledge. Knowledge is life to all those who understand it Captain. Look at it this way, we die spiritually because we do not know God, right. And we will die physically because we don't understand the things that go on around us. If we don't know what foods are good for us, we can eat the wrong things and give ourselves heart problems. If we don't take the time to understand each other, we can live in fear and hate each other. The whole world will live in fear until we know what is going on with that space ship."

     "Captain," interjected Juan, "remember that to have friends you must first be a friend. We must go and meet them."

     Captain Pela was somewhat taken back by the calm clear thinking and glanced over at Mr. Rodriguez. " What, no words of wisdom?"

     "Captain, most people know in their heart what is the right thing to do before God and man. Now it is just a matter of doing it."

     "If anyone goes, I go by myself," demanded Pela, unwilling to risk anyone else.

     "Sir, you can't go," reminded Sibu, "remember the regulations. I will be ready in a few minutes."

     "Lieutenant, you are not going! And you can forget the regulations because I threw the book out after your last trip. You have already done far more then anyone should have asked of you. I am going, and you are in command of the Voyager."

     All of the Rodriguezes raise their hands to volunteer to go. And Captain Pela flatly rejected their request. "You three are passengers, and you are not going anywhere! You can forget that!"

     "Two sets of eyes are better than one, Captain," interjected Renko. "I volunteer to go with you. The Rodriguezes know all of the basics, Sibu will be in charge, and we will only be gone for an hour."

     "We're not going to the store for a bottle of milk, Chief. This could get rough."

     "Sounds good to me, let's go," encouraged the Chief.

     Pela checked every face again then looked at Lieutenant Sibu,

     "Lieutenant, do you have any questions?"

     "No Sir, we can handle it till you get back."

     "Okay General, we are going to take you're one hour cruise. Chief, turn the power on in Bertha and check the fuel levels. I will get supplies, food and water for five days just in case we have to go home on our own. Okay Lieutenant this is the game plan. Renko and I will go over and look around. You and the Rodriguezes will stay here and continue to monitor the situation. If anything goes wrong, you are to leave orbit for home at the earliest opportunity. You are not to wait for us to return! There is absolutely nothing you can do to stop an attack on Earth, if it happens. The cameras and computers are directly feeding all information to Earth, so they see anything that is going on as fast as you do. So look out for yourselves! Don't even think of doing anything stupid, like crashing the Voyager into that ship or some other stupid stunt. With that protective shield he has, it would be totally meaningless. The smart move is to take care of yourselves so that at the right time you might be able to help someone else. You're no good to yourself or anyone else if you get yourselves blasted into a billion pieces."

     "And by the way people, I think we need to talk about why we haven't been blasted. I can only think of two reasons. One, we are so insignificant that we are not even worth bothering with. Or two, they are planning to board us. You might want to start making weapons for self-defense. Outside of that I don't know what to say, are there any questions?"

     "But Captain there is a third reason," announced Mrs. Rodriguez.

     "Yea, what's that Mrs. Rodriguez?" Asked Pela.

     "Maybe they want to be friends with us and those other guys were bad."

     Captain Pela smiled one of those, well you're a nice lady but you don't know what you're talking about smiles. "Well I hope you're right Mrs. Rodriguez but we need to plan for the worst."

     Mr. Rodriguez raised his hand and the Captain acknowledged him. "Yes Mr. Rodriguez."

     "What can we make the weapons out of? Do you have nano-machining tools on board?"

     "We do not have an nano-machining tools on board so you will have to make everything the old fashioned way, by hand. There are some general-purpose tools and a few pieces of test rack framing metal in the lab. You might be able to make some spears and knives out of them." The Captain paused and thought for a minute. "I guess you can use anything but the radios, computers, and anything that is part of the outer haul of the ship . . . you're a machinist, improvise!"

     "If there are no other question, we had better get started. We all have a lot to do."

     The group spread out in preparation for what they thought could be a big fight. Mr. Rodriguez thought for a minute and then asked, " Captain, do you have a PC that I can use?"

     "Yes, there is a spare in my cabin closet in the bottom bin."

     Mr. Rodriguez immediately dove toward the other end of the ship.

     Captain Pela finished loading Bertha and had started through Bertha's checklist with Renko when Sibu entered and closed the hatch behind her.

     "Got a minute Captain."

     Pela and Renko both stopped what they were doing and turned in their chairs to talk to her. "Sure, what's up."

     "I never thought of the Voyager being boarded, and I don't have any military training to fall back on. I thought that you might have some pointers."

     "Well, there really isn't much that you can do to stop them. They have lots of technology, and fire power. If they want in here there is nothing that you can do to stop them. I think that you are going to have a big problem with the Rodriguezes if they get in here. How will they react to Juan being hurt or killed? Will they kill him rather then have him get captured? You just do not know these things about anyone. As for the aliens, I would try to build or make barriers between the aliens and you, starting with their ship. I would do anything that I could to keep them from getting from their ship to this ship. I would jettison the sail back at them if they try to come over in a small ship. The nice thing about jettisoning the sail first is that Voyager becomes a lot more maneuverable and faster without the sail."

     "Remember, above everything, we are not looking for trouble, only use force if you have to," pointed out Renko. "The large ship has that invisible shield. Nothing can get through that, so you will have to wait for them to get close."

     Pela added. "And you also have the external experiments pallets that you can jettison at them. You may get lucky and annoy them enough to get them to just go away. The idea is to keep them outside and you inside as long as possible. But first, I would try to keep a low profile, save your fuel, don't move the ship around unless you have to. If that doesn't work, and they force you to fight, then build the barriers. Give em a good fight Lieutenant. Remember, they're not going to hold anything back and you shouldn't either." A long silent moment of looks and unspoken farewells passed. "Lieutenant, I want to wish you well. It's been good serving with you. All I can say is cover your butt and don't look back. There is nothing you can do for us so take care of your crew."

     Sibu thanked Pela and Renko for the help, and left Bertha locking the hatch behind her. She turns around to find Juan floating next to the engineering panel. "What are you doing Juan?"

     "I want to be ready to help with anything that I can do. I am reading the manual for operating the sail so I can help you fly the ship."

     "Good thinking Juan, that is a very good job for you." As Sibu moves away from Juan she spots Mrs. Rodriguez in the Internal Experiments Lab looking through the first aid kit. "What are you working on Mrs. Rodriguez?"

     "I'm inventorying our medical supplies. I used to be a nurse."

     "Great Mrs. Rodriguez, good thinking." Sibu was very impressed with the ways the Rodriguezes were using their skills, but where was Mr. Rodriguez?" As she passed the galley she saw Mr. Rodriguez hitting the side of the food processor, as he knocked the front cover off Sibu asked, "What's going on Mr. Rodriguez, are you hungry?"

     He turned toward Sibu with a big grin on his face and waved a small memory card. "Do you know what this is?"

     "No."

     "This is a Machinist's Bible. It tells you what kind of bolt to use where. And what material to use for any job."

     "That's nice Mr. Rodriguez, I take it that you want to know which kind of bread to use with your sandwich."

     "No, don't you see? Well, maybe you don't see . . . This is a nano-food processor. The only difference between this food processor and a nano-machining tool is programming and the germ injector. Think of it this way, both machines assemble and disassemble atoms. To this machine there is no difference between making a sandwich and a part for a laser. It's all programming. So all I have to do is reprogram it to assemble parts and we can make any weapon we want. The only limitation is how much power we have to fire the weapon."

     Sibu was beginning to understand where Mr. Rodriguez was going. "Computer, What is the maximum output of the two remaining power plants?"

     The ship's computer heard the question and responded over the ship's intercom. "Four point two megawatts."

     "Computer, What is the maximum power load that can be handled by the ship's main power bus to sub bus two?"

     "Six point three megawatts."

     Sibu grinned, "This ship may be slow, but it is 100% heavy duty and tough as nails. So Mr. Rodriguez, what's cookin?"

     Mr. Rodriguez smiled and put his card into the processor's computer and went to work. "Food processor computer access the card in drive "A". With a maximum power available of four point two megawatts what is the most powerful weapon that we can build?"

     "A Bond Breaker Cobalt / Xenon Laser."

     Sibu's eyes lit up and she patted Mr. Rodriguez on the shoulder. "Party on dude! Is there anything that I can do to help?"

     "Well I'm sure that you have a lot of stuff to do . . . If you could send Juan back here to help, that would be great. I wouldn't think that it would take more then eight or ten hours to build it."

     Sibu was surprised by the time estimate, but kept on smiling. "Great, I sure do." As she moved toward the door she thought to herself, we could be toast in an hour. But she couldn't think of anything better to work on.

     A few seconds slipped by while she sent Juan to help his father and then Renko's voice came over the radio, "Solar Voyager this is Bertha, we are moving away." The sound of the latch releasing and a small jerk on the Voyager confirmed the separation.

     "Affirmative Bertha, good hunting, we will see you in an hour," acknowledged Sibu.

     "Voyager we are low on fuel so we are going to be moving very slowly trying to stretch it as far as we can." Renko laughed as Bertha swung around and the full view of the alien ship stood in front of them. "Hey Voyager, what is big and black and mean looking all over?"

     "I don't know Chief. What is big and black and mean looking all over?"

     "This big dude behind us, man!"

     A laugh came over the radio, "I hear that Chief . . . Wilks would like you to start on the right side of the alien ship and work your way slowly down the side."

     "Okay folks, here comes the cameras and lights. We're going to rotate around a little and move toward their nose. Can everyone see okay?" asked Renko, "Would anyone like a pillow, how about some peanuts? Lets try not to forget where we put the Mother ship this time."

     Pela jabs back, "I don't care what you serve as long as it is not popcorn!"

     "Sure can Bertha, nice work," replied General Wilks. "The static is getting a little stronger . . . I'm surprised that you haven't hit the shield yet."

     "We're now a couple of hundred yards out, and you can start to see some burn marks, but I still don't see any real damage or anything that looks like a weapon, or a gun turret." Announce Pela.

     "How about any doors or openings?" Asked General Wilks.

     "No, but there are lots of these plates or covers that look like they might be doors," replied Pela.

     "Maybe their weapons only come out when they want to use them," speculated General Wilks.

     "Even with Bertha's lights some parts of the ship were almost impossible to see. The black ship is almost invisible against the background of space." Observed Pela.

     "You can say that again Captain, we keep losing track of where the ship is. It just seems to disappear if you see it from the wrong angle." Replied General Wilks.

     "Here are some more of those doors, some big and some small. They're all over. Boy it's hard to see from this angle", interjected Renko, " . . . General look at this, a heavy concentration of large and small burn marks here in this area around this large door."

     "Good work Bertha! Take a lot of pictures in that area, there must be a good reason for someone to concentrate so much fire power in one spot like that," acknowledged General Wilks.

     "General, we just woke someone up! They just turned on their clearance lights and this large door is coming open," yelled the Captain into the microphone, Pela immediately pulled Bertha back a few hundred feet to the side of the door.

     "General, what should we do?" Asked Captain Pela as the door opened. "We can't see in from this angle."

     "I don't know Captain, but I'd move slowly."

     "Captain," interjected Renko, "why not use the camera on the end of Bertha's manipulator arm to look into the opening."

     "Good thinking Chief, anything is better than actually flying in front of some kind of death ray." Captain Pela turned Bertha around and put its nose almost against the side of the alien ship as Bertha drifted sideways toward the open door.

     "Sir, we're getting close," warned Renko as he looked out of his window and Pela slowed Bertha's drift to a craw. "Stop!" The camera just cleared the opening revealing a large empty bay.

     "I think we are being inviting in for a closer look," said the Captain.

     "Well maybe so, but I would be careful. He's no fool," observed General Wilks.

     "Believe me General, I would never call anyone, that could travel around the galaxy in a ship that big, a fool. We're going to move in closer, stand by." Bertha drifted in front of the door. " . . . General, if this isn't an invitation I don't know what is. Well, we will never know if we don't accept the invitation."

     "General we are moving into the bay." Bertha inched forward into the bay and turned around as the bay door quickly closed.

     "Sir, we're being pulled down to the floor," exclaimed Renko.

     "I know, they must have some kind of artificial gravity. I'm shutting off the engines, and look at the gauges. The air pressure is building up on the outside of the ship. Earth normal air pressure and gases, they want to meet face to face. General, are you getting all of this?" The radio didn't even hiss from static. Renko turned around in his chair and removed the flares from the emergency recovery system.

     "What are you doing?" Asked the Captain.

     "I'm getting the tools for a diversion," replied Renko, "that is, if we need one. Here, two flares for you and two for me. Don't waist them, when they're gone, they're gone. Do you know what I mean?"

     "I sure do!" Replied the Captain. "Well it's lighted well enough to look around the bay let's go outside and see what our host has in mind, open the hatch."

     "Yes Sir." As the hatch opened the strong smell of animals stops the duo dead in their tracks for several seconds, "Boy, someone has a real body odor problem."

     "You can say that again," agreed Captain Pela.

     "Boy, someone has a real body odor problem," replied Renko.

     "Very funny Chief, and for winning first prize in our outer space comedy special, you get two trips in front of the death ray . . . But, I not only smell animals I even think I hear animals," commented the Captain.

     "Yeah, me too, and what's that thumping noise?" The two men turn to see a large robot coming toward them from a hallway that opened onto the bay.

     "Looks like company," replied the Captain.

     Renko turned to face the on coming robot and slipped a flare into the back of his tiger skin costume. He looked over at Pela and smiled. "Have you ever noticed how hard it is to find just the right words when you meet a big mean looking robot?"

     Captain Pela came around the nose of Bertha, and stepped out into the bay a few steps to face the robot. His fingers twitching on his flares. "Let's try this. Hi, I'm Captain Pela and this is Chief Petty Officer Renko of the freighter Solar Voyager. We have come in peace to welcome you to our Solar System."

     The robot stopped about ten feet away. It was completely covered with gray and black camouflage.

     "Gentlemen, welcome to my ship, The Traveler." Said the very well spoken and easy to understand robot. "I am Trader a Type Three Deep Space Robotic Merchandizing and Exploration System. We have come in peace to visit your Solar System, trade, and explore. Of course, compliance with your laws and customs will not be a problem. I have read many of your computer files and listened to your communications to learn the your many languages. Can you understand what I am saying? Do you have any questions?"

     The straightforward and open manner of Trader surprised them. "Yes we can understand you." . . . Pela looked at Renko for a second, and Renko gave him the nod. Pela knew that they had come to do a job and they weren't leaving until it was done. "What was the battle between you and the other ships about?"

     "Your society will find that there are pirates in the deeper reaches of space, and you will need to defend yourself against them, as I had to," replied Trader. I collect information and information is very valuable. The people that learn how to use information correctly become wise and rich. I have traveled through many solar systems collecting information on technology, life forms, style, fashion and anything else that I can transmit back to my owners. They in turn sell the information to manufactures, designers, entertainers and others that want to have the latest information from new worlds. Everything is valuable, the latest devises, hairstyles, even new interesting animals can be created on my home world with virtual reality from the genetic codes that I send back. It takes too long to send the real physical items back, so I transmit enough technical information back to my owners for them to recreate everything there, either physically for non living things or in virtual reality for living things. You are just now learning to use these basic principals in your nanotechnology. I am a merchant; I buy and sell anything and everything so that I can get the raw materials I need to keep my mission going.

     Renko jumps in, "Trader, our scientist are very concerned over the meteor shower. Can you tell us anything that will help us deal with this situation?"

     "I am activating my defensive systems to protect you and your Planet from the meteors." The wine of machinery could now be heard in the background. "The meteor shower will slow down and end on it's own in about two hours. I am very sorry, but it was my gravitational propulsion system that caused the shower. All of the other Solar Systems that I have visited are equipped to deal with meteors. I did not mean to cause any damage, but I will correct any problems that I have caused. Simply tell me what needs to be repaired, and I will send maintenance robots to take care of the problem."

     Back on the Solar Voyager, the sudden outburst of weapons fire from the alien ship caused several minutes of excitement until they realized that the fire was aimed at meteors.

     "General this is Sibu, they're blasting meteors not ships. Maybe Pela and Renko are making some progress over there."

     "It does seem to be a good sign, but don't let your guard down yet, Lieutenant. I really do wish that I could listen into the conversation."

     On the alien ship Trader admired Captain Pela's clown costume. "Captain, I must say that I really love your uniform. It is truly unique, I'm sure that it will create quite a fashion fad on several of the planets with whom we trade."

     The Captain, who had been concentrating on the situation at hand, had totally forgotten about the costume he was wearing. Somewhat surprised by Trader's comment, he stumbled for a few seconds trying to explain what he was wearing but was stopped by Renko.

     "Yes Sir, that is one of the prettiest uniforms that I have ever seen. I can't wait until I become a Captain and can wear one. Granted, my tiger skin has historical significance, but the Captain's uniform really displays the importance and power of his position."

     Captain Pela could not believe his outrageous position. Sure, he had ordered that the costumes were the uniform of the day, but explaining all of that to an alien could prove to be very complicated. Certainly more complicated then anyone wanted to get into at the moment. This was very embarrassing for Captain Pela and Chief Renko loved every moment.

     "Chief, we really do need to be getting back."

     "Yes Sir," the reply came with a smile.

     "Captain Pela," interjected Trader, "before you go, I would like to hire you as a consultant. A mediator between me and the governments of your planet."

     "Well Trader, I'm not much of an expert in that area, but I will start the gears moving by letting them know about you and your mission. We'll find someone to help you, but you should understand that most people look out for themselves, and you should too. You should also understand that you have caused quite a scare on Earth. If I were you, I would stay out here orbiting the Moon until you're invited to move closer to Earth. If you were to just quickly move toward Earth they would take it as a threat or an attack. I really liked your offer to fix the damage that you have caused. The meteor shower has caused a lot of damage not only on the Forager, and Agape Station, but also on Earth."

     "I will immediately send teams to help them."

     "No wait until we get back to the Voyager. We will contact everyone and make the offer for you. If you just send robots out without an introduction, that too may be viewed as an attack. Repairing the damage will help people to trust you, but it must be done in an open unthreatening way."

     "Thank you Captain. I would like to give you a present for Lieutenant Sibu. If it's permissible?"

     "Sure, that would be very nice, but please keep it small. We are very low on fuel and space."

     "Captain, I would be a bad host if I let you leave without servicing your ship." No sooner where the words spoken then three robots came into the bay and started refueling Bertha.

     It was becoming obvious that everyone was getting along well, when Trader suddenly changed colors. He changed from gray and black camouflage to a bright shiny white, green and yellow design that was instantly applied to every part of the inside and outside of the ship surprising the crew of the Solar Voyager and the Pentagon.

     "Do you like the new colors?" asked Trader.

     The Earth men looked around in surprise and agreed that the new colors were very nice.

     "This is the logo of The Friends, which is the company that sent me on this business trip. Come with me and I will show you some of the things that I have collected in my travels. The trio walked across the bay and entered a very large adjacent room that held dozens of unique small animals and birds. You are the first Earth people to see these animals."

     "Boy, they sure are noisy," commented Renko as the animals filled the room with every imaginable squeak, whistle, and noise.

     Trader made a whistling noise and they calmed right down. "You scared them, I let them know that everything is okay." Trader stopped at a display that had a pair of animals that looked like flying rabbits that flew into Trader's arms with a big hop. "You might think that I have taken real species. I have no desire to hurt anyone or anything, these are all virtual reality creatures. They look, feel, smell and act like the real thing. The plants, animals, and everything are computer generated with this little computer." Trader reached down into the display and picked up a small box that was under one of the plants. "By studying a creature for a long period of time we learn about its habits and personality. Then we collect a small DNA sample to get all of the information needed to exactly copy it in virtual reality. It is much easier to store anything as virtual reality computer information then it is to haul the real thing around. This herbivore species has not even been named yet, because they have come from a planet with no intelligent species."

     "They should feel right at home on Earth," quipped Renko.

     Pela took the small device that generated the animals, "Thank you very much Trader. I'm sure Lieutenant Sibu will take very good care of them, with the help of every zoo on the planet! Boy, this ship is a regular Noah's Ark. Look at all of these creatures!" Commented Captain Pela as he looked around the room.

     "My Noah's Ark, as you call it, is only a small part of my ship. Most of my ship is used for collecting data, and maintenance. I can make any part I need from basic raw materials that I find in my travels. You call that nanotechnology. The ability to build things atom by atom. The rest is divided among my robotic crew, communications, and defense. A small sample of the kind of data I'm talking about is contained on this storage device." Trader opened a small door in his side and took out something about the size of a small calculator and handed it to Captain Pela. "This device also contains information on how to contact me, and will interface with your computer systems. You can tell your people that I have a lot of information about your Solar System, and I am interested in trading raw materials or mining rights for that information."

     The small animals continued to climb on and fly around Pela and Renko like real animals even when the virtual reality generator was in Pela's pocket.

     "I certainly will tell them, Trader, but now we really must be getting back."

     "Your ship is ready Captain, we can go through here." Lead Trader as he pointed to a door.

     After the trio said their good byes, Pela and Renko crossed the bay and entered Bertha. Once they were inside and had closed the hatch, Pela playfully slapped Renko on the arm. "What is the idea of telling him that these are our uniforms? Didn't you hear him, he is going to send pictures of us all over the galaxy?"

     "I think it's great that there are going to be millions of little green aliens all over the galaxy running around in clown costumes. I think it's great!" Laughed Renko, who was very pleased with himself?

     Captain Pela just shook his head with a grin. "Well chief, let's get some power on in here."

     "Yes Sir, power on." Renko reached over with a big grin and flipped some switches as the large bay door opened. "Can you see it? Millions of clowns in space everywhere, and it's all your fault."

     "My fault!" Interrupted Pela.

     "Sure, you are the Captain and you were wearing the costume on an official mission for the U.S. Government. You held important interplanetary negotiations in that uniform. You saved Earth from attack, and you're the one that told all of us to dress like this, and even the company said that they would support any decision that you made. I love it! That's going to be the most famous uniform on the planet. I can see a wax dummy of you in that costume in the Smithsonian Institute right now!"

     Both men broke into a roaring laugh as Bertha moved out of the bay and into open space. The men were laughing so hard that tears were floating from their faces. After a few minutes of hard laughing, Captain Pela pointed out that they should contact someone and Renko turned on the radio. "This is Bertha is anyone out there?"

     "Go Bertha." Came the instant response from at least six different voices. Which sparked another round of laughter.

     "Solar Voyager, this is Captain Pela. What is your situation?"

     Sibu's imperative voice instantly replied, "All systems are operational, and standing by for orders!"

     "Ok Lieutenant, put away the guns. Everything is okay over here. Prepare to receive Bertha. We will be there in a few minutes."

     "Affirmative Bertha, we are standing by, but what happened on the alien ship, Captain?"

     "They're robot merchants and explorers. They're not here to hurt anyone. They just want to open trade talks. By the way General, are you there?"

     "Affirmative Bertha, General Wilks here," another instant reply, and a round of laughter.

     "General you had better round up NASA and some computer people. They have given me some kind of little data base device that's supposed to interface with our computers. When I get back to the Solar Voyager, I will try to dump its information to you."

     "Affirmative Bertha we will start setting up for you, and by the way, nice work guys!"

     "Thanks General, we will finish filling you in when we get back to Voyager."

     "Affirmative Bertha, the situation room is standing by."

     The two flying rabbits flew by and bounced off the inside of the windshield with a little squeak. Captain Pela switched the radio off and slowed Bertha. "Quiet, and no pressure, boy does it feel good!"

     Renko nodded and replied, "Yea, but look at Voyager. She is really beat up."

     They both sat back for a few seconds and unwound. Renko reached down between the seats and pulled a half-eaten bag of popcorn out as the poisonous spider drifted by his hand and then clung to the side of the seat. He held out the bag to Pela, "Do you want some popcorn?"

     "Sure," replied Pela as he reached into the bag and began to eat. "It's a little stale." Commented Pela as he put his hand up refusing any more. "I wonder whatever happened to that spider?"

     "It's hard to say, Captain" replied Renko shrugging his shoulders. He made a face with a mouth full of popcorn. "Your right it is stale." Renko rolled up the bag tightly and stuffed it back between the seats. As he wiggled around for a second trying to get comfortable the bag came loose again, and floated up in front of his face. Renko reached for the bag,and noticed the spider smashed on the bottom.

     "Look what I found," announced Renko displaying the bag proudly.

     "Thank you Jesus! Good work Chief," applauded Pela has he patted Renko on the arm, "boy has this been a hectic trip."

     Renko laughed, "I know and with God's help I can't wait for the next one."



THE END



About the Author
     For over twenty-five years Phil Ebert has worked with and helped young people. As the Owner and Web Master of the popular Christian web site Apple Sauce Kids he provides a large variety of free resources to people that work with kids, http://applesaucekids.com. As a first time story writer, he has drawn on twenty years of experience as a Senior Technician in the Research and Development Department of a large company to anchor this story in science reality. The story presents some of technologies that are under development now, and are plausible in the near future. The full impact of these technologies is hard to predict. But it is already easy to see that today's children will have a very different life then we had. Education and a continual process of learning will be a key part of life in the future.

     I wish to extent special thanks to Lisa Ndebele (Mackay in English) from Zimbabwe. Lisa is a visitor to Apple Sauce Kids, and helped with the name Thandukuthula Sibusiso, or Sibu for short. This name is based on the native language of Zimbabwe called Sindebele. Thandukuthula means love and peace. The word Sibusiso means blessing. It is correct word usage to use these words as a name.

Glossary
The Drake Equation:      N = R*   x   fp   x   ne   x   fl   x   fi   x   fc   x   L
     No joke, it's real, and at this point in time it is based on a lot of educated guesses. To use the equation, just plug in your guess for each variable, and multiply each part by the next. Where,
N = The number of civilizations in The Milky Way Galaxy whose radio emissions are detectable.
R* = The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.
fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.
ne = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.
fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.
fi = The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.
fc = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.
L = The length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.
Nanotechnology:     The building or disassembling of things on either the atomic or molecular scale. This is a real and very powerful technology that is in its early stages of development. The first major appearance of this technology will be around the year 2010 when it is already scheduled to mass-produce computer chips. Present speculation is that by around the year 2050 this technology will turn the job and economic world up side down. On the negative side, it may someday have the ability to eliminate the need for farms and many other businesses. On the positive side, environmentally, it may also have the ability to disassemble the most dangerous and destructive chemicals into their easily handled base elements. All at a time when today's children will be reaching their peak earnings years.
spacetainer:     A box or container used to ship things in space.
solar wind:     Is a stream of atomic particles, mostly protons and electrons, from the Sun's corona, flowing outward at speeds of between 200 mps/300 kps and 600 mps/1,000 kps.
Definition from Webster's New World Encyclopedia. NASA has performed experiments in using the solar wind as a propulsion method.


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