© 2017 by Peter Schmotzer

Star of Origin

“It’ll unite the world,” NASA mission specialist Eli Eden said through the microphone.  Murmurs swept through the audience, mostly global media.  Tensions between the global powers had reached a level that shadowed the Cuban Missile Crisis, and anything that could reduce that tension provided hope.   The distraction from the constant talk of war created headlines that made people want to watch the news again.

 

From the audience, Cheryl Lowe from FNC News said, “What’s your wife’s role?” 

 

“Other than to keep me happy?” Eli said to laughter from the audience.  “Her quick analysis of any anomalies we may encounter is invaluable for this mission.”

 

“Anomalies like what?” the reporter asked.

 

Jasmine, Eli’s wife who was standing beside him, leaned toward the microphone and said, “we don’t know what exactly we may face.  This is the first time mankind has put our Space Contraction Theory into practice.”

 

“In layman’s terms,” the reporter said, “can you explain exactly how that’s going to work?  I mean, for those of us on earth, what will we see?  Because earlier you said the Shuttle Origin might appear like a star.”

 

“That’s right,” Jasmine said.  “It’s hard to describe.”

 

“Because it hasn’t been tried before,” Eli interrupted.

 

“There’s that,” Jasmine said.  “And also the remote possibility the ship will-”

 

“Please,” the reporter interrupted.  “Just tell us what we’ll see.”

 

“Let me,” Eli whispered to his wife.  He leaned toward the microphone.  “From Earth, you’ll see a star appear.  Initially, it’ll be faint when we activate the Contraction Drive Engine, or CDE, and if-”

 

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” the reporter interrupted, “but no one seems to be able to explain how the . . .” She spoke slowly . . . “Contraction Drive Engine functions either.  Can you explain it?”

 

Eli sighed.  “It’s been proven that the speed of light cannot be exceeded.  However, our theory has demonstrated that space can be expanded and even contracted, or shrunk if you will.  In the simplest terms, the CDE will expand space behind the ship and contract space in front of it, thereby on a relative basis, allowing us to exceed the speed of light.”

 

The reporter gave a blank stare.  “Let’s go back to what we’ll see from earth.”

 

Eli smiled.  “Of course. If our theory is correct then from your perspective, the ship won’t appear to move due to the expansion of space behind and contraction of space in front of the ship canceling each other out.  Therefore, the ship will move through time, not space, and from your vantage point it’ll seem that we’re not moving.”

 

Some reporters shook their heads with wide eyes as if they were witnessing madness.  Eli saw the spokesman from the Pentagon, Jim Strong, raise his hand.

 

“Yes, Jim,” Eli said.

 

“Eli,” Jim said, “as you know, the Pentagon is concerned about the reaction we may get from some of the other global powers.  Since the nation of Bakustan got nuclear weapons, they’ve been far more aggressive on the global stage, and their leadership claims that this mission is an act of aggression against them.  They even said they’ll launch a nuclear attack if you launch.  Why can’t the mission be delayed until things quiet down?”

 

“The president has authorized this mission, which is peaceful,” Eli said.  “I’m confident that the leadership of Bakustan recognizes this as well.”

 

“But to create those differentials in space in front of and behind the shuttle, you are using nuclear power,” the Pentagon spokesman said.

 

“Yes, it’s the only way to create the amount of energy necessary.”

 

“So, I’m sure you can see why Bakustan would be concerned – we’re talking fusion reactions here.”

 

“The reactions will be contained, so I’m sorry, I can’t understand why there’d be any concern,” Eli said.

 

“So a delay is out of the question?”

 

Eli shook his head.  “It’s not my call.”  Uncomfortable and anxious to change the subject, he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.  He made eye contact with the reporter who had the previous questions.  “As you’ve reported, our target date is the doubling of the current year, 2025, and as we get closer to the year 4050, the ship will appear as a dim star thanks to the Contraction Drive Engine.   But during the final month,” he said and he motioned his hand from level to steeply up, “it’ll get exponentially brighter until it looks like the brightest star in the sky.”  With his hand he popped his fist opened so his fingers were wide.

 

“Right out of a Star Trek movie,” another reporter hollered.

 

“But this will be science-fact,” Eli said.

 

From the back, a reporter shouted, “What about your son?”

 

“Micah,” Jasmine said, “will be living with my sister’s family.   He’s always been family to them, and they’ve already accepted him as one of their own.”

 

“Few people can understand how two parents can leave their child,” Jasmine’s mother said.  She was seated in the front row.  Reporters nearby thrust microphones in front of her.

 

So much for moral support, Jasmine thought.  She looked at her mother and said, “What Eli and I are doing is for him as much as anyone else.  Micah will come to understand that the needs of us all are far greater than the needs of just one.”  She watched her mom for a reaction.

 

Her mom stood and yelled, “the only thing a son needs is his parents!”

 

***

 

 The night before the launch, Eli and Jasmine sat upright in their bed, leaning on pillows against the headboard. 

 

Jasmine put her hand over her husband’s.  “I wish my mom could be more understanding,” she said.

 

“How can you expect her to understand?  She doesn’t have your intellect.”

 

“What she lacks there she makes up for with heart,” Jasmine said.  She stared at her hand on top of his.  “What do you think we’ll find when we reach 4050?”

 

“You mean will humanity still be here or will Bakustan have blown us all back to the Stone Age?”

 

She interlaced her fingers with his.  “Yeah.”

 

He looked at her.  “We’ll have to repopulate the planet if they’re not.”

 

She laughed.  “You know what I mean.”

 

Eli reached over and picked up an old book from the end table.  He opened the aged leather cover partway then closed it.

 

“You still believe in that?” Jasmine asked.

 

“Two-thousand years,” Eli said.  Jasmine knew the story behind the book well.  Eli’s family could trace the prophecy in it back to Israel from two eons ago.  It passed from generation to generation, and when it got too worn, someone in the family copied it into another book.  “Maybe,” Eli said, “we’re to deliver it to someone in 4050 – ever think of that?”

 

“I never understood the last page,” she said.

 

“Me neither.”

 

He grabbed the book and flipped to the last page. 

 

Θα γνωρίζετε αν έχετε να πρωταγωνιστήσει πάνω με την έναρξη .

 

In Greek it said: You’ll know if you have to star over with the beginning.

 

Eli slowly shook his head.  “Pretty sure they got the translation wrong.”  He leaned over and kissed his wife on the forehead.  “What does my mathematical genius think it means?”

 

Jasmine shrugged.  “I can keep up with Einstein, but not Shakespeare.”

 

“And it’s not a typo,” Eli said.  “When I was a kid, I was sure it meant start, not star.  But the Greek words for start and star are too different.  Maybe they’ll be able to decipher in 4050.”

 

“Maybe,” Jasmine said.  Eli felt her hand tremble, and she shifted her body to lean against him.  He set the book on the nightstand and put his arm around her.

 

“I did a simple multi-linear regression from my corollary to our theory.”  She waited for a reaction from Eli, but none came.  “I changed the variables, and I think my reverse theory is valid.”

 

Eli rolled his eyes.   “Honey, everyone knows you can’t go back in time – just forward on a relative basis.”

 

She smiled.  “Based on the p-value, I did it.  I’m sure I can do it.”

 

“Impossible.”

 

“As long as you don’t want to live through it,” she added

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“If the Origin were going back in time, the expansion-contraction fields from the fusion generators would collide the instant the shuttle slowed, and it would blow up, like a bright star.”  She forced a weak smile and looked at their family picture on the dresser.  “We’d be a star that no one knew.”

 

Eli’s eyebrows rose.  “Then forward it is.”

 

***

 

 

In the middle of the night, Eli awoke.  He looked at the alarm clock.  3:16. He got out of bed, careful not to wake Jasmine.  She stirred.  He walked to the bedroom door and opened it.

 

A few seconds later, Eli quietly cracked open the door to Micah’s bedroom and peered inside.   Due to the faint hue from the nightlight, Eli could see the boy sleeping.   He heard Jasmine’s light footsteps behind him, and they stopped when he felt her arms slide up his sides.  She leaned against his shoulder, and he opened the door wider.

 

The sound of the stirring child was all it took to draw both parents to his bedside.

 

“Mom? Dad?”

 

“We just wanted to say goodnight,” Jasmine whispered.  I mean goodbye.  She thought of all the counseling they’d been through with their son to get him ready for his new life, but she felt guilty as if she were abandoning him.  Her mom was right.

 

“You did earlier,” the sleepy child said.

 

“Can I turn off the nightlight?” Eli asked.  It had become a pet peeve of his.  He felt Jasmine lightly slap his arm.

 

“No.” Micah closed his eyes and said, “When you and Mom are in space, you’ll be surrounded by nightlights.”  He yawned and closed his eyes.  

 

Eli heard his wife getting emotional.

 

Micah whispered, “Let me keep this one on – it’ll remind me of you.”

 

***

 

The launch went as planned for Shuttle Origin.  Meanwhile, talking heads discussed whether the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on the mission would yield any benefits.   The military presence inspired the usual conspiracy theories, including that it could be a distraction for a first-strike.  War was the punctuation at the end of every concern.

 

Once in orbit, Jasmine spent a few seconds looking out the small window to the earth below.  Eli did too and said, “None of the photos I’ve seen do it justice.”

 

“They can’t,” she replied.  “So beautiful.  I hope it’s here in 4050.”

 

Over the speaker, they heard Mission Control shout, “Origin, we’re getting reports that Bakustan launched a first strike!”

 

Eli shuttered.  “This can’t be happening.”  He looked at his wife, her mouth opened; terror in her eyes.  He grabbed the microphone and said, “Abort?”

 

“Origin,” they heard Mission Control say, “We’re getting reports of hundreds of bogies.  All suspected nuclear.”  Eli could hear the strain in the controller’s voice.  “Godspeed, Origin.”

 

“Micah,” Jasmine screamed.  “Eli, we have to abort!  If we don’t go back, it’s all over!”

 

Eli took her hand.  “No.  Remember what we said last night?”

 

She looked at him with eyes that made it hard for him to be strong.

 

“Forward,” he said.  She bit her lip and swallowed. “Still with me?”

 

After a few seconds, she nodded.

 

“T-minus two minutes to activate the CDE,” Eli said as he flipped switches and swiped at touch screens.

 

Jasmine reached into her breast pocket and took out a small USB drive.

 

Eli glanced at her.  “What’s that?”

 

“I think we hit that anomaly,” she said.  She saw Eli’s eyebrows pop up.   “And remember-”  She looked up, unfocused.

 

“Jasmine?” Eli said, instantly concerned.  “You okay?”

 

“Your book,” she said.  “I know what the last page means.”

 

Eli’s face wrinkled.  “This isn’t the time for-”

 

She looked at him.  “You’ll know if you have to star over with the beginning.  The beginning is us.”

 

“What?”

 

“We’re in the Origin.”   She pointed down.  “This ship is the Origin – the beginning.”

 

Eli took a double take.

 

“And star.  That’s us.  We’re the star.”

 

Eli glanced at her then at a screen in front of him.   He turned his head and squinted for a second, then looked at her.  “Like a reboot?”

 

“I think so.  It’s not supposed to end like this, so we go back to the beginning.”

 

“We’ll die.”

 

“So billions more have another chance, including Micah.  Remember the back-up I derived?”

 

“What on earth are you talking about?” Eli asked.

 

“You would say it was ridiculous.”

 

“Everything’s automated for this mission.  And now you’re talking about-” His jaw clenched as he tried to control his frustration.  “Why would you bring an alternate program?”

 

“It’s a back-up – to, literally, back-up.”

 

“To put the ship in reverse?”

 

“Like you said at the press conference, the ship will appear stationary once the CDE is activated.”

 

“What does that have to do with what you’re talking about?  What exactly is this back-up?” Eli asked, uneasy.

 

“I thought about what we were doing, and how it coincided with your family’s ancient history.  I see how it’s all connected.”   She looked at Eli.  “If we’re doing what I think we’ve been destined to, then people from two-thousand years ago are counting on us.”

 

A sweat broke on Eli’s forehead, and he swallowed hard.  He spoke slowly and deliberately.  “Jasmine, you’re the most brilliant physicist the earth has ever known, but right now you’re not making sense.”

 

Jasmine held up the USB drive by a lace.  “Time travel, but backward - not forward.”

 

Eli closed his eyes and prayed.   A few seconds later he opened them.  “Oh, my God.”

 

“Exactly,” Jasmine said.

 

***

 

2025 years earlier

 

The shepherd reflexively pulled the scarf across his face to shield it from the cool night air.  He looked toward the sound of bleating sheep and squinted.  Seeing no predators, he slowly turned his head and scanned the dark field.

 

High above the horizon, he noticed a star brighter than any he’d ever seen.  He stared at it and it got brighter.  His breathing quickened.  “The prophecy,” he whispered.  “I will go and see the new King.”

 

Across fields around Bethlehem many other shepherds and magi saw the new star and set out to follow it.