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After years of training, trillions of secretly spent dollars, and a morning of unexpected errors, Commander Roger T. Rodriguez had finished the final checklist. The Ark was set. “Station Four, we are go for launch, finally.”

This ship would not take off in a grandiose blaze of fire and smoke from the Florida peninsula, well exceeding the mass limit for a ground-based launch. It was built in geostationary orbit, making it very high and thus very hard to see, an important aspect of any covert operation.

“This is Commander Ran Bailey. Clearance granted for clamp release,” responded a voice over the comm. “Have a good trip, Rod. We’ll be thinking about you.” Her voice had a somber tone. Working together for so many years, even though it was mostly in virtual meetings, they couldn’t help forming a friendship. “I’ll be thinking about you.”

Rod smiled as he looked around the empty bridge. The Ark’s crew was waiting at Moon Base; where they had undergone training for the past three years while the ship was built. Rod had first set foot upon the ship just a week ago. Since then, he had gotten little sleep. It was a large ship to inspect.

“Roger that, Commander,” was all he replied, with a forced grin frozen on his face. He would miss Ren, and the fact that she and everyone else he knew on Earth would be dead just hours after the Ark accelerated to near light-speed was finally hitting him. Ren would most likely enjoy a long, full life, but the laws of relativity would slow time on the Ark drastically compared to time on Earth. As seconds ticked by on the Ark, years would pass on the relatively slow-moving planet.

“Ark, Dock clamps released in three ... two ... one ... mark.”

Rod’s display showed an exterior view of his ship. The Ark was perfectly spherical, to centimeter precision, with a half-kilometer diameter. The magnetic clamps released the Ark’s hull and began drawing into the Dock.

“The Ark is adrift. Initiating lunar course,” Rod reported as he pressed a display button to confirm the command. It would take a day to get to the Moon using the ship’s sub-light drive. Rod had some last-minute updates to make to the training exercises, so at least he wouldn’t be bored. “Course successfully initiated. Ark out.”

Rod let out a heavy breath as he leaned back into his chair. He looked at his planet. The Pacific Ocean occupied most of the view. He hadn’t been on the surface in three years. And in all likelihood, he never would again.

+5 on-board hours

“Commander Rodriguez,” called Lieutenant Leslie Baker from across the bridge of the Ark. “Something is wrong with our first positioning star-scan.” They had reached their first stop, nothing more than a routine to run diagnostics on the engine and sensors.

Rod turned from his display. “What’s wrong? A star go out?”

“Not exactly,” she replied.

“Well, what happened?” He started his way over to her station.

“It’s Vega.” She brought it up on her display. Rod looked it over. Baker continued, “It’s so far out of position and its output is so different the computer didn’t even recognize it.”

The radiation output caught Rod’s attention. “That’s gonna be lethal when it hits Earth,” he estimated with a concealed terror, “even under the atmosphere.”

“It’s already reached Earth, Sir.”

Attention had spread to the five other officers on the bridge, who were all now gathered nearby the station. They were silent for a moment.

“Do you think they could block it somehow?” Lieutenant Ester asked.

“It wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume so. Technology has probably advanced significantly on Earth since we left,” Rod answered. “It’s only been a few hours for us, but remember a few hundred years have passed for everything else. Right now, we can’t do anything about it. Extinction events like this are exactly why the Ark Project was commissioned. We knew it would eventually happen, just not this early. We still need to find a suitable planet.”

“You do realize the implication for our mission,” Sub-Commander Hoka said from behind the bunch.

Rod looked over to him, and then to the others. “Now that you mention it, yes. Any planet within about three hundred light years of Vega is going to be sterilized.”

“We might as well skip ahead,” Baker concluded.

+1 on-board Week

The Ark came to another stop, its fourth since it left Earth. They had already traveled over two thousand light years in search of a suitable planet to colonize, but were still just going through the long list of candidates detected from Earth before they launched.

Equipped with a one-of-a-kind device that could reduce the ship’s mass, the Ark could travel at very near the speed of light without a massive expenditure of energy. While over two thousand years had gone by for slow things, like the Earth, only a week had gone by on the Ark, most of that time spent at stops. For an unknown reason, it was hard to sleep while the ship’s main drive was engaged. They would spend a couple days in this particular system. It had two potentially suitable planets.

“Sub-Commander Hookah,” said Lieutenant Baker. “Not that it pertains to our scans of Planet F1, but the Vegan radiation is now below lethal levels on Earth.”

“How long did it end up lasting?”

Baker did a quick calculation. “One thousand fifty-three years, Sir.”

“How far away are we?” Hoka asked.

“Currently six hundred forty-two light...” she stopped, interrupted by an alert that the computer brought up on her display.

“What is it, Baker?” Hoka questioned, a bit curious.

She pressed some display controls at her station. “Let me see,” she said. “The Sol-Tracker sensors picked up an event.” The Ark had a few dedicated long-range sensors that kept an eye in Earth’s direction.

Hoka leaned over the Lieutenant’s station. “What did it see?”

“The sun’s output briefly increased,” explained Baker, “by almost twenty percent.”

The screen looped a few seconds of visual data, over and over. The sun brightened; the display noted for four-tenths of a second. “What resolution can you get?” asked Hoka. “Can you see what it was?”

“I’m trying.” She worked for a few seconds. “It definitely wasn’t the sun,” she reported. “Something else in the solar system lit up.”

“Something on Earth? A fusion or quantum weapon?” Part of the Ark’s purpose was to preserve humanity in case of a life-ending war or weapon, so it was not out of the question to assume such a thing.

“No. It’s not in the right position. It’s about a million or so miles away from Earth’s location.”

“And this would have happened six hundred forty-two years ago, while the Vegan radiation was still lethal on Earth?” he asked, already knowing the answer but reminding himself of the fact.

“Yes, sir.”

“Any natural explanation, or can we assume it was human-made?”

“An asteroid-to-asteroid collision could cause it, but none large enough in our solar system were on intersecting courses.”

“You said it was a million miles from Earth’s position. Can the sensors determine in what direction?” Baker realized where he was going with this.

“It should be able to, but it’s going to take a few seconds. Why?”

“If you’re on Earth and about to get hit by that radiation, what’s the only way to protect the whole planet at once?”

“Something in space?” she suggested.

Hoka nodded. “If the source of that light was in line with Earth and Vega,” he said, “my bet is that it was a radiation shield.”

“Meaning humans could have survived.”

“Up until this event, yes. But I think we just saw something happen to it.”

The sensors were done. “You’re right, it was in the direction of Vega.”

Hoka stood silently thinking. Hundreds of years of that radiation would have caused the greatest extinction in Earth’s history. “Call the Commander. He’ll want to know about this.”