He looked down at the two stories below him. He had never been afraid of falling since there was a balcony belonging to the neighbours just his window. He would sit there and read, think, or just look at the city he loved so much. The main reason he liked Medao was that every roof was topped with a garden. There were even patches of forest growing on some roofs towards the old city. Deer, birds, small mammals, and some not-so-small reptiles lived throughout the city. All the roofs were connected by sky bridges in such a vast network that it was said you could live your entire life in Medao and never touch ground level. Stores, markets, and services could be found at any height, though most buildings did not exceed four stories. He liked the little place he and his father called home. It was four rooms, his bedroom, his dad’s, a wash-room, and a living area. The house was on the top story of a large multi-home brick building which surrounded a central courtyard, typical of residential housing of that quarter of the city. The windows offered a beautiful view of the city and the lake to the south. He could also see the old city with domes of the important buildings surrounded by houses topped with ancient trees. Wildlife was most dense on those rooftops. The creatures had for generations never left the city, humans were everyday passers-by to them, especially since hunting was illegal within the city unless specifically warranted. The only thing which broke the city into sections was the river delta. However many buildings and bridges straddled the canals.
He got up from the window, stopped for one last look of the skyline, and walked away. He grabbed his bag and shut off the lights and looked again at his home. He thought of how lonely it was being the only one here. He shivered, for some reason he knew he would be the only one to see it again, but he did not know where such a notion came from
During his train ride to the base Kahlen sent text and recorded messages to various people explaining he was going on a trip for a month, maybe more. He also sent feeding instructions for his cat to the neighbourhood council to ensure Namien would not go hungry.
Once he arrived at the base he made a beeline to the window overlooking the hangar and gazed down at the Yasha. She was a lot more than just a scientific leap in travel technology, she was the only hope for the empire to defeat her enemies. The Cohorans were pressing hard on the neutral zone, very soon the ceasefire would end and the empire would be plunged into war. The space-folding slipstream technology in the Yasha would be what would keep them a step ahead. But even with the Yasha, would his people be able to recover from two centuries of retreat?
He looked at the clock on the computer monitor and decided to break his solemn thoughts and continue preparations for the trip. He had his own luggage with him in the office and he walked out into the hangar with bag in hand. He had packed light for the voyage, never being the sort of person to keep unnecessary belongings.
Most people were still asleep as he walked into the Yasha. It still felt strange to him to now have regular given access to a new part of the base. He put his luggage in a drawer which slid out from under his bed in one of the two sleeping rooms. After doing one last inventory he exited the vessel and sat on the cold hangar floor hugging his knees. He liked to sit this way; it made him feel safe when he was unsure about something. Something was wrong, not with the Yasha itself, every diagnostic imaginable had been run and she was voyage ready. But still a strange foreboding quiver had settled in his gut and would not let go.
Kahlen was so deep in his thoughts he did not hear the footsteps until they were right behind him. “What are you thinking?”
He jumped in surprise and turned to see a greying man with kind face. He recognized him as the chief engineer.
“I’m sorry,” the engineer said, his amber eyes showing concern, “I did not mean to surprise you.”
“Oh it’s not your fault, I was just elsewhere.” Kahlen assured.
“You’re Kahlen I presume.” he extended his hand, “My name is Oren Dara, chief engineer.”
Kahlen stood, shook his hand and bowed respectfully in the manner a youth shows respect to an elder. The gesture, much to Kahlen’s surprise, was returned.
“I am honoured to meet you; the Yasha component is ingenious.”
“Thank you sir, but my father and uncle did nearly all the work, it was my father’s theory and idea,” Kahlen said earnestly.
“Yes it was,” Oren said seeming to give in, and then continued, “but it was you who found the initial flaws. It would not have been possible without you. You have proven yourself to be years ahead of the rest of us.”
Kahlen did not have a reply.
“I hope to have the honour of working with you for a long time to come.” Dara finished.
“As do I sir.”
By now people were beginning to stir and the hangar came to life. Soon the two of them were surrounded by the buzz of voyage preparations and so after some polite conversation they said farewell and headed to their own tasks.
Preparations progressed smoothly, there was no need to rush as everything was on schedule. Kahlen, despite his initial feelings felt confident. They would be launching very soon but he felt completely at peace.
His father leaned into the lab and beckoned him, “Kahlen, time for the ceremony.”
The whole crew involved with the running of the Yasha Project stood in rows before the vessel. Everyone inclined their heads as an enlisted local elder, each person gave a gesture of respect to the elder in accordance with their individual sect. Kahlen, his father and uncle grasped the thin forelock braids which were pulled back and fastened behind their necks. These braids symbolized they were part of the Yerana sect of the Ailar religion. As Yerana they accepted the newer prophesies but still held to pre-Ailar traditions. This elder had come to give Heaven's blessing to the voyage and the future of the ship. Kahlen came up beside his father and uncle. The elder walked forward, put one hand on the vessel and with the other he held one of the sacred writings. He read a few passages about Heaven's protection to those who wander, that whatever may happen He will help them find their way home. The passage was literally about a sinner's errors before returning to the Heaven's light but it was often read before a physical journey as well. The elder gave a final blessing. This blessing was given to all vessels, that wherever they may go they shall carry their passengers safely home. At the end of the elder’s blessing a loud cheer roared three times, “R’Ojei ne Suienki!”
After the prayer Kahlen was handed an icon of a local saint to place over a doorway within the vessel then his father, and his uncle boarded and immediately began system scans. A transparent screen was projected in front of the helm, the list of test one by one turned from orange to blue as their respective parts of the ship were proven functional.
“All systems go. Ura out” Kahlen‘s uncle said over the communicator.
“Hangar doors opening.” the director replied.
Kahlen sat as co-pilot next to his father. After the hangar doors opened they were given permission to launch. The engines fired up and the Yasha launched through the tunnel and out into the grey midday sky. They made a great arch and then a steep incline into the clouds. Despite the great speed, the Yasha’s own gravity kept them from feeling but the slightest motion. For awhile they were inside the grey clouds until they gave way to blue sky and finally the brilliant stars of the night. Kahlen was awestruck by how many stars there were. Back on the ground he had never seen the stars because of the ever present clouds covering the planet. But now he saw millions of them covering every little space. He looked down at the schematics showing where the Yasha was in relation to the planet. They were a small dot blinking over a dull silver sphere.
"Woah!" Kahlen exclaimed, seeing the gas giant, Pleora, which their world Ini orbited along with her sister inhabited moon, Aida. The gaseous behemoth had bands of violent, yellow and orange currents tracing over its surface blending at their margins. All his life this view was hidden by his home-world's thick atmosphere, but if it was visible from the ground he knew Pleora would cover much of the sky.
“General, requesting permission to leave orbit and prepare for seeding.” his father said.
“Permission granted Rhora.” the director replied.
Rhora turned to his son, “Initiate the primary engines.”
“Yes sir,” Kahlen pressed a few buttons on the control panel in front of him, “Engines initiated, ready for acceleration.”
Rhora steered the Yasha away from the planet and towards the edge of the solar system. The drive moved space around them at about fifteen times the speed of light until they arrived at the edge of their solar system in seven minutes and were ready to begin phase two, their home star now just a pinpoint behind them.
The ship slowed to a halt and Rhora again contacted the base, “We have arrived at the disembarkation site, preparing to seed time-space slipstream.”
“Message received, The generals will be waiting to congratulate you at Sepho, Godspeed.”
“Alright Kahlen, ready the Yasha drive.”
“Yes sir,” Kahlen hands flew over controls, “Computer is calculating route,” again he paused. There was a chirp and he finished, “route ready, estimated travel distance; 60 light-years; estimated travel time; 2 days.”
“Wow!” Kahlen’s uncle exclaimed, “It sounds so much faster when you actually hear it.”
“Yes,” Kahlen replied, “Moving space at over two thousand times the speed of light, it's unfathomable.”
Kahlen then turned to his father, “The Yasha is ready to seed a slipstream and depart.”
Kahlen touched one final pad and a hum could be heard from the Yasha engine. The stars before them seemed to ripple because of the gravitational force being emitted from the Yasha. Then the Yasha sped forward and the stars began to crawl by like distant landmarks when seen from a speed train.
There was dead silence until Kahlen jumped from his seat and yelled, “We just broke the speed record!”
His father and uncle joined the jubilation.
Several hours later, Kahlen sat with his uncle playing a board game. He was obviously winning as his uncle groaned when us nephew took out yet another of his pieces.
His father, Zhadu, walked in and greeted them, “How is the game going?”
“Well-,” “-Terrible,” they both replied simultaneously.
“Kahlen, sorry to disappoint your victory but you both need to get your sleep.”
“Yes sir, good night.” Kahlen left for the quarters. “I can beat uncle Ura tomorrow.”
Thump! Kahlen was violently thrown from his bed onto the floor. Something was wrong. He staggered out of the sleeping quarters and to the door of the bridge. It opened for him just as some inertial force pushed him forward and made him hit the floor of the bridge.
He shakily stood and called out, “What is happening?”
“We have been pulled into a much stronger slipstream and are heading off course.” his uncle replied.
“Kahlen, check our navigation.” his father ordered.
Kahlen went to the back consol and looked. His eyes grew wide, “The readings are off the charts, the computers must be damaged. We are outside any familiar star patterns.” Kahlen looked up into his father’s grim face.
Zhadu stared back and then turned to the controls, his fingers moving wildly. He turned around, his eyes seeming to be wet, “Son, we are going to try to slow the ship down. I need you to go into the dorm and get into one of the impact protection units.”
Kahlen shook his head, “No dad, I’m going to stay with you.”
Zhadu grabbed his son’s shoulders, “I promise, your uncle and I will follow as soon as we make these final adjustments which will hopefully help us escape the slipstream. I need you to stay in the protective unit, now go.”
Kahlen made his way back to the sleeping room and pulled down a panel. Its seat flipped downwards. He climbed into it and pressed a button on the armrest. The sides of the chair seemed to inflate. It grew around his legs and body as the sides filled with a highly insulating fluid, keeping him still. Tears began to flow down his face. “Farewell dad, farewell uncle.” It was the last thing he said before the crash.