Transse. That would be the nearest way in our language to say the name of the world he found himself crashed on. This was supposed to be the triumphant return of the United States to space. Years ago, the U.S. had gone to the moon a few times, then everything seemed to go backwards from there. The rocket ship going to the moon gave way to the space shuttle simply orbiting the Earth, and that was then canceled due to the national debt crisis. But then a discovery in the year 2021 changed everything. An American science team, digging deep ice core samples from the arctic, discovered a meteorite weighing nearly 30 million tons. But unlike most meteorites, this one was not mainly iron in its composition, in was nearly all pure gold. Secretly, carefully, over five years time, it was brought by ship back to the United States, one of the greatest acts of keeping your lips zipped that Americans ever engaged in. When the discovery was announced, the national debt was instantly paid, every American had their own debts paid in full as well, and the government suddenly found itself awash in cash. The world was violently jealous that we found it first, but kept mainly silent, since we paid them back all of what we had borrowed, and generously aided them beyond that as well.

After beefing up military defenses to a high enough degree to keep all of the jealous nations of the world at bay, we once again turned our attention to the stars. Not to look at them, not anymore. Now we would explore the heavens, in person.

Ten years later the Oro 1 was launched. It was a miracle of modern technology. Since it had been discovered that Einstein was wrong, and that there were things that could travel faster than light, the universe had opened up as if Columbus had been re-born and was flying rather than sailing. Using Neutrino technology, light was a bystander to be zipped past on the way to another solar system, or even another galaxy.

And that is how Major Charlie Sanderson found himself crashed on the far distant planet of Transse. A few years into major new technology is never enough to work all of the bugs out, and this bug caused a neutrino failure half-way into the round trip flight. Thinking quickly, Sanderson initiated a scan for habitable planets, and found one within range. Getting back home was an afterthought at that point; he first had to survive long enough to get his ship down semi-safely.

As he did a quick scouting trip in the area around his downed craft, he took note of the conditions and environment. Little things were suddenly all-important. Was there a source of potable water nearby? Were there any dangerous life-forms on the planet? How hot would the day get once the third sun was in the sky, joining the first two?

As to life forms, he knew there was life on this planet. In fact, according to his sensors, while this planet held no precious materials at all, it was absolutely crawling with life. He couldn’t see any with his eyes yet, but he knew it was out there. The crash down had probably scared whatever they were off, at least for a time.

Once he was done scouting the area, Charlie Sanderson turned his attention toward his downed craft. The fuselage was still intact. That was good, very good. Cockpit controls were still responding, that was good as well. It was back in the engine room that he finally managed to find and isolate the problem. It really doesn’t matter how he got it fixed, only that he did.

But in the hours spent working on his craft, an unusual film began to form on it. When he was ready to attempt the launch sequence, he first climbed up on the front of the ship, and attempted to brush the film off of the viewing camera. Glass would never hold at supra-light speeds, so diamond faced cameras were used to allow the pilot to see where he was going. But the film would not come off, no matter how hard he scraped it or tried to chip away at it. It seemed almost to be a living thing, moving and shimmering. But a scan of it with his sensors revealed no life, and nothing that seemed harmful to life. But no sensor technology is ever perfect…

So, resigned to the fact that he would have to trust his instruments rather than be able to see the stars and planets as he flew, Major Charlie Sanderson launched his craft, and headed for home.

Nineteen months later, the Oro 1 re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. The film that had formed on his craft back on Transse had done something that Sanderson believed to be impossible. It withstood the heat and pressure of nineteen months of supra-light speed, and was still completely intact when he touched down back in Aimes, Iowa. As he exited the craft to a warm welcome from a relieved nation, cameras were rolling, and there were smiles from coast to coast. “Major Sanderson,” a reporter shouted, “how nervous were you when your Neutrino drive malfunctioned?”

“To say I was nervous would be a lie,” he dead panned “it would be far more accurate to say “I screamed like a girl!” Laughter filled the air, but almost as quickly as it started, it died away. Every eye turned to the craft behind him. The film that covered it was changing before everyone’s eyes. First it turned from grey to black, and then from black to red, and then it began to hum and vibrate with a low, rhythmic, droning sound. Within a matter of seconds, it had lowered to a level that only those nearby could hear, but still it droned and hummed and vibrated, and it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to stop. No-one was hurt. No creatures popped forth from the film. In fact, it seemed that this would just be a minor annoyance for our scientists to study, a droning, humming, vibrating film. Nervous laughter began to waft across the tarmac, as Major Charlie Sanderson raised his hand to his forehead in mock relief. But instantly, he jerked it down in front of his face, and stared disbelieving at the third finger on his left hand. Where seconds before there had been a wedding band, now there was just a white imprint on his skin where a ring had long been. Reporters began to grab for their necks, and found necklaces missing. Earrings were suddenly not there. Rolex watches were gone. The humming and droning and vibrating continued on. And hours later, somewhere in Washington, DC, the phone rang, as angry nations of the world began to call, led by a call from Beijing, wondering what kind of trick this was, and what had happened to the gold that had been used to pay off our national debt.
(© Dr. Bo Wagner 2012)
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Feature photo by Bo Wagner