CHAPTER 48

414 68 9
                                                  

Phoenix was the last of the Titan X crew to don a memory helmet as Sarah stood to the side and watched, monitoring the eBoard tablet. The inside of the device contained pads that cushioned his head. Unexpectedly, the pads mushed around his skull like they were filling with air, but the result was a comfortable fit. It reminded him of a football helmet when he played quarterback for the Naval Academy. That time in his life seemed like eons ago.

Sarah tapped the tablet with the tip of her finger, bringing up a holographic image that ballooned out a few inches from the screen. She swiped her index finger to the side, scrolling through a list of commands, probably selecting the correct memory download. With what she wanted displayed as a hologram, she jabbed at the floating tab and instantly, a soothing warmth washed over Phoenix's head and grew into a mind numbing, body tingling euphoria that overwhelmed his senses. His eyes closed without his permission and he felt himself drop into a world of virtual reality. He saw words hovering in front of him:

Memory File: SSA-001.737
Content: Orientation Video
Subject: Station Assembly 7/15/2045
Classified: Top Secret

Cinematic music cued. A deep bass rumbled. A drum thump, thumped, followed by a cello, strumming rhythmically.

Phoenix walked into a large theater-like auditorium, down the center isle.

The crisp voice of a female narrator began, "Welcome to the Space Station Arcturus. For the next three years, you will join us in our home among the stars. Thank you for attending the orientation in our lecture auditorium. If you are a university student, you will return to this room for daily class instruction as part of our education outreach program. If you are here as part of a research team, or are on work related detail, then you will report to your assignment chief for further instructions."

"You will find your assignment descriptions on the eBoard tablets mounted in front of you at your seat. Please log into the system, now, with the username and password given to you upon arrival."

Phoenix chose a chair and sat. Only now did he notice Nova, Callisto, Luna, and Ariel in the auditorium with him. They all looked at each other and took a seat on the same row as Phoenix. Ariel sat next to him. She smiled with a sparkle in her eyes. No one talked. The scene was surreal, captivating.

People of all ages appeared around them, filling the room, everyone calm, waiting with expectation.

A wall size screen showed a pie chart. It changed as the people around them logged in, increasing in number from seventy-seven percent, ninety-six percent, and finally, one hundred percent.

"Thank you for logging into the system. The orientation will now continue."

The bass intensified, then fell away, ensued by a classical violin introduction.

"From its sprawling halls to its cutting edge laboratories, the Space Station Arcturus is mankind's greatest endeavor in the outer solar system. After man first stepped foot on Mars in the year 2033, the next phase of exploration commenced four years later with the initial launch of Arcturus components. Thirteen launches and seven years in transit, assembly began on May 5th, 2044. It was the beginning of destiny. Man's fingerprint among the planets, and a mid-station for our journey to the stars."

The bass instrument thrummed again. The strumming of the cello followed and faded.

A view appeared on the big screen of the wheel-like station rotating with the giant red spot of Jupiter as a backdrop. The stubby extensions of escape pod tubes protruded at various locations along the exterior. Contoured spacecraft orbited nearby, looking more like cylinder-shaped submarines than conventional winged ships.

"Over a year later, on July 15th, 2045, construction was complete. Hundreds of astronauts labored around the clock, utilizing massive cranes, specially designed space tugs, and robotic assistance. Because of dedication and perseverance, the fusion reactor fired a day later resulting in power, lights, gravity, and climate control. Nearly four hundred million miles from Earth, man achieves a scientific outpost orbiting the planet Jupiter."

The display on the screen changed to that of interior labs inside the station. Scientists peered through microscopes. Conducted research in advanced technologies such as cryogenic hibernation, asteroid deflector shields, and deep space propulsion.

Outside, astronauts performed space walks, used jet packs to maneuver along the exterior of the station. Humanoids assisted with work in zero gravity. They were easy to spot because they didn't need suits in the vacuum of space. Somehow, the humanlike robots moved about, impervious to the extreme cold and lack of pressure.

Back inside, engineers and mechanics ate lunch in a cafeteria, relaxed with tablet books in a lounge with a cup of coffee, and slept in comfortable quarters with windows overlooking Jupiter.

"This is not just an achievement for the United States space program. NASA has led the way since we became the first to send man to the moon and Mars. But Arcturus is opening its doors and arms to countries around the world. Foreign research teams are currently submitting requests for work permits with extended stays. Arcturus is the wave of the future. Innovation is our motto, and the universe is our destiny."

"Congratulations on being assigned to Arcturus, and good luck with—"

—Memory File SSA-001.737 Download Complete—

—Standby for File SSA-052.737—

Titan XWhere stories live. Discover now