Our ship had been damaged in the backdraft of Earth’s burn. The E-fleet Base had taken a direct hit from a ground-based Direct Energy Weapon before we reached it and there was nothing left but debris, some of which hit us when we tried to get close enough to see if there were any survivors.
We were both in shock and trying to gather our thoughts. There was no filling the cavernous space that had been our home. There was no next step or moving on. There was only enormous, mind-blowing loss. Earth’s body was our body, her life was ours. Humanity and Earth had ever been entwined. How could we live without her?
Hours later, when we had fallen into silent despair, a voice answered Leon’s signal over the radio.
“Hello, Sparrow Hawk,” a Russian voice spoke, “this is the Space Alliance Station. What are your coordinates?”
The Space Alliance had been the competing force for Earth’s supra-atmospheric space above the Kármán Line, and the Global E-fleet’s unacknowledged enemy. I had no doubt that, in our thirty-four successful missions against alien invaders, we had shot down more than one Space Alliance aircraft.
The Russian voice coming across the radio wave sounded as happy to hear Leon as we were to hear him. Within an hour we received docking clearance aboard the Space Alliance Station and were welcomed with cheers from surviving pilots from almost every advanced nation on Earth. Tears ran down many faces, unchecked and unashamed. Our differences had ceased to exist. We were all that was left, and clung to each other with gratitude and desperation.
“This can’t last forever,” Leon whispered in my ear as the survivors congratulated each other.
A few other stragglers found their way to the SAS and then realization began to set in for everyone. We had no source of food or water. The situation could not continue indefinitely and there was no returning to Earth. What faced us now was slow death.
On the third day, an assembly was called and I realized for the first time how few of us there were. All told, nine pilot-navigator teams had survived the burn. The remaining three dozen persons were staff on board the SAS, including a Russian Colonel and a British General.
The very somber General Isaacson presented our options on an overhead screen. His face was worn with a decision that had no-doubt cost him more than one sleepless night.
“We have less than a month of rations aboard the SAS for this number of people,” he began without preamble. “It has come to us that a course of action must be chosen. According to the data left available to us from the remaining satellites we can access, there remains a possibility of life in three directions.”
The news was better than most of us had hoped for and every pilot sat up in his chair, devoting full attention to the General. He smiled grimly and shook his head.
“It’s not so much,” he warned, “but still, it is something.”
On the overhead monitors he presented a large photo of an hexagonal shaped pattern in the atmosphere on Saturn.
“There is some speculation of a successful mission to Saturn twenty years ago when a courageous group of scientists and astronauts never returned from a mission known as "Новый дом” - or, “New Home.” The atmosphere is so thick, no signal was able to penetrate the shroud around the planet, confirming it’s ability to sustain life. The mission was considered lost. However, six months ago, an astronomer in Moscow presented evidence he believed to indicate life forms on Saturn were sending a message using weather modification that caused a pattern in the atmosphere itself.”
The assembly room rippled with surprised commentary and enthusiastic exclamations.
“It’s not as hopeful as it seems,” the General reiterated, clearly dubious of the option. “But it is something.”
He changed the image on the overhead screen to one of Mars. The image revealed the shapes and outlines of multiple pyramids grouped in an area on the surface.
“The second option is Mars,” he said, clearly more hopeful than he had been a moment before. “It was never revealed to the public that a base on Mars was established by an American and British coalition over forty years ago. There was a small city, greenhouses and factories and a growing number of Martian born citizens. Thirteen years ago a severe solar storm destroyed most of what had been built on the surface, and operations were moved below ground. Then the war on Earth began, and about the same time we lost communication with the Martian underground due to another devastating solar storm. We have not heard from them since.”
The room was silent as each one of us speculated somberly about what might have happened.
“There was an underground water source,” General Isaacson went on, “and underground greenhouses, using grow lights to produce food. It is possible no one survived, but we know without doubt that it has potential — that life has survived on Mars before.”
I felt a building nausea in the pit of my stomach in expectation of the third option. Somehow I knew, even then, that it was our destiny; Leon’s and mine. My hands were cold and damp and I rubbed them on my fatigues, willing the General to get on with it and tell us our last option.
“The third option is scarcely worth mentioning,” he said, glancing surreptitiously at a slightly-built, middle-age scientist standing in the corner, “but it should be presented as a possibility.”
He pressed a key on his computer and the screen changed to show an ancient map on yellowed paper with faded inscriptions.
“This map is believed to be of Sumerian origin. As you can see, it is a star map of our solar system and that of another, unknown to us. The inscriptions seem to indicate there is a portal, or doorway, behind our moon that leads to the other solar system during a convergence of Earth, Saturn and our moon. It so happens this alignment will occur five days from now. According to the map, there is a fertile, habitable planet in the other system, possibly accessed from the backside of our moon. There is no indication of how far one must travel in that direction, or how the jump is made. If, by some miracle, it’s not complete fiction, it would likely require technology we do not possess to make the trip.”
The room was dead-silent. No one, other than me, looked around. I saw fear and doubt (or scorn) on every face. Except for my brother’s. He glanced over at me, and I knew he was reading my mind. I had a thing for maps. And the one on the overhead screen looked authentic to me.
“Has anyone tried it before?” Leon asked in the momentary silence. The pilot on the other side of Leon twitched in his seat, startled. The General looked at us critically for a moment.
“Maybe,” he said. “We’re not sure. A mission to the moon disappeared thirty-seven years ago. The Magi was an American craft, but the mission was a collaboration of scientists from five different countries. They were last heard from on the backside of the moon. No one, that I know of, has ever connected the disappearance of that research team to this Sumerian star map — until now.” General Isaacson glanced again at the scientist in the corner, who nodded purposefully at Leon.
“Why do you think the missing American craft made the jump?” I asked, leveling my question directly at the scientist.
“It happened the day of the convergence,” he said nervously, glancing apologetically at the General. “On the day, the hour, and at the exact location specified on the map.”
“Any other questions?” General Isaacson interrupted, addressing the whole room.
“Wouldn’t it be dark under the heavy atmosphere of Saturn?”
“Not any darker than being underground on Mars. We’ll just have to evolve.”
“Maybe there’s another light source, other than the sun, under the atmosphere.”
“Mars seems like a more viable bet to me.”
Questions and commentary made pursuing the Sumerian option impossible. I got up and waded through the crowd to the front corner. Leon was right next to me.
“Captain Leon Ascent and Captain Eleanor Ascent,” he introduced us, putting his hand out in greeting.
“Doctor Frank Perlman,” the thin man replied, shaking Leon’s hand, and then mine.
“Can we get a copy of that map?” I asked him. “And any other maps or documents that might be helpful if we should try this.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said, shivering with anxiety. “I wish. . . I wish I could go with you.”
“The other bets are safer,” Leon told him. “No offense, but this is the craziest option.”
“Maybe,” Dr. Perlman agreed. “But if this— this portal exists, it is only open for about forty minutes every 18.6 years. If you make it through, none of us will be able to follow you until the next convergence.”
“And that disturbs you?” I asked.
“This planet. . . I know it’s there. If it weren’t for the circumstances—well, I wouldn’t hesitate—but . .” He looked fearfully around the room, clearly weighing his choices. Then he shook his head dismissively, and waved his hand at the crowd behind us as though they had ceased to matter.
“My great grandfather was from Nedan,” Dr. Perlman asserted suddenly, searching our expressions for a response. “The planet! The planet on the map. He was from there. He told us stories that we thought were fiction. But when I found this map, I knew they were true. He came to Earth over a hundred years ago, through the same portal.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say. I just stared at him, wondering uneasily if I sounded a little crazy now too, after all we’d been through.
“It’s true,” he insisted, looking from me to Leon with a stressed and pleading expression. “You are the lucky ones.”
“Okay. Thanks.” Leon said somberly. He put his strong hand on the Dr.’s thin shoulder and patted it reassuringly. The doctor stood a little straighter and asserted,
“I’ll get you those maps right away. And my translation of the text too. Best guess, that is. Best guess.” The doctor hurried away and Leon sighed with a conflicted quirk of his brows.
“What have we gotten ourselves into now, Lani?”
“A space odyssey,” I answered. “Do you remember the last thing Mom said to us?”
“Don’t fall for phishing scams?” Leon guessed.
“She said, ‘maybe you’ll find us a new home.’ Didn’t you think that was weird?”
“Mom always said weird things.”
“Yeah, well. . .” I shrugged and then sighed. “What have we got to loose?”
“Not. . . much.” Leon agreed soberly, draping his arm over my shoulders. “Come on, let’s￼get the Sparrow Hawk ready.