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The Press Conference


Major Tran took command of the podium while reporters from the major networks elbowed and shoved for position. “Major Tran! Major Tran!” A young reporter waved her raised her hand like an excited schoolgirl, desperate to get Tran’s attention. He glanced her way and pointed. She jumped at the opportunity, quickly asking one of her many questions. “Why now, Major? Why has the Space Administration decided this is the time for another voyage to Cerulea?”

Major Tran cleared his pompous throat, and turned to face the nearest camera, making his best effort at a sincere smile. “I have been dreaming about another voyage to Cerulea for my entire life, and as Director of Space Administration I am glad to be in a position to make it happen!” Tran pointed dramatically to an imaginary point in the sky. “It is our mission, no, our duty as a generous people, to try again to reach our sister planet, to share our gifts of knowledge, wisdom and truth!”

There was a wave of exhuberant applause, followed by another question from a different reporter. “This has been attempted fifty times before, and failed. Why do you think this voyage will succeed?”

“We have better technology than what they had in the past,” an easy truth for Tran to say. “Our latest ship is being built to withstand the higher speeds made possible by 5D.”

Another wave of hard applause.

Tran continued. “Our communication technologies are better than ever. We have learned from our past mistakes. There will be no damage to the antennas from centuries of deep space radiation. The internal electronics are also designed to withstand the rigors of a long journey through space.”

More clapping. Wow. He could not finish a sentence without being interrupted by excited applause. “This is going well,” Tran thought. “And why not? I’m brilliant!”

Petrus sat back in the desk chair of his home office, hands behind his head, watching live images of Tran’s spectacle projecting from his desktop mini-hologram device.

“You are brilliant,” Petrus thought to himself, but he was not referring to Tran. He was referring to his own self. Tran was putting on a good show for this press conference, just as Petrus had planned and predicted. It didn’t matter that Tran was taking all the credit. Petrus simply wanted to get the project off the ground and he knew he could use Tran’s ego and truth-weakness to his advantage. Tran was now putting himself in a postion from which he would not be able to back down. He was confirming the project to a world-wide audience. Petrus loved it!

The reporters still had many questions for Tran. “How long will the voyage take? How fast can they go using 5D?” People were hungry for information about the mission.

“5D will allow the ship to travel at twenty percent of the speed of light for most of the journey.” He accentuated the words “twenty percent,” as that indeed had been a magnificent achievement. “Theoretically,” he added. Now a nervous rumble diffused through the crowd. “We all know Cerulea is 50 light-years away. So the trip should take approximately 250 years.” Now the crowd was excited again, everyone being aware that this was half the time predicted for the previous flight 100 years ago. This crew could possibly beat Mission 50 to Cerulea!

Several reporters were trying to speak at once. Tran tuned in to the loudest one, “What do you mean, ’Theoretically’?”

Tran tried to calm the crowd of reporters, waving them down with his hands. “I mean we have good science telling us the 5D tech is ready. The last two robot ships passed all the tests. Mission 51 will be the ultimate proof of 5D. Not to worry!” Tran’s explanation sounded forced. No applause this time.

Another reporter asked the next question on everyone’s mind. “Have you decided on the ship’s crew?”

At his desk, the smug smile disappeared from Petrus’ face. He dropped his arms and sat forward in his chair, leaning in to get a better view of the mini-holo. Tran was not supposed to reveal the crew just yet, but he could not be trusted to follow the plan. “Please,” he implored to the oblivious holo, “don’t talk about Mat.” Petrus wanted Mat to hear it first from him.

The Major took a deep breath and paused, while the crowd grew quiet, anxious to learn of any information as to the crew. Finally, Tran divulged, “Yes, I have decided on the crew. But, before that information is released, I want to announce the person I have selected as Mission Director. It should come as no surprise to you. Along with me, he has promoted this mission for a long time. Drum roll, please. Mission 51’s Director is none other than… Ambassador Petrus!"

There was a roar of applause that Petrus barely heard. He deflated in his chair. “Damn you, Tran,” Petrus said to Tran’s projection. Tran’s announcement was as good as announcing Mat as a crew member. The tradition of placing a family member in harm’s way was not lost on anybody. It would take no time for the press to discover that Mat was Petrus’ only remaining family. Petrus felt it was his duty and right to ask his son to take on this heavy responsibility. Tran had very likely taken that away. “Jerk!”

 

Petrus turned off the live transmission and just sat motionless for a minute, lost in his thoughts and memories. He brought up an old holo recording of Mat when he was a young child. In it, Mat was running around the house with a toy spaceship in his hand, pretending he was in it, flying through space from adventure to adventure. “Mat to Mission Control, be advised, I’m coming in hot!” The memory had always been a favorite of his, made him laugh. Now, it hurt Petrus deep in his soul.

Petrus closed that recording and scrolled through his long list of other recordings of Mat. Mat with his mother at the beach, before the accident. Little Mat with his science project at school. Mat playing sports. Mat with his friends. Mat’s party after his first graduation. Mat’s induction into the Space Academy. Mat with Dirk. On and on with memories of Mat’s life. These were memories of his own life, too, Petrus realized. “Is this all I get?” His eyes welled up with the first of many tears.

At that moment, there was a knock on the door. Petrus shut down the holo and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand as he choked out a “Hello. Who is it?”

“Father, it’s Mat.”

Petrus took a deep breath as he hurried to the door. He opened it to see his handsome son in full uniform. Mat walked in, closed the door behind him, and without a word enveloped his Father in a long, tight embrace.

Petrus knew instantly that Mat had heard the announcement, that he was aware of what was coming. “I’m sorry, Mat. I’m so sorry. I wanted to be the one to tell you.” Tears were welling up again.

Mat held his Father tighter. “Don’t be sorry, Father. I’ve known this day would come for many years. You’ve been preparing me for it all of my life. I’ve always known it. And I’m ready. I will make you proud.”

“Oh, Mat, I have always been proud of you. A man could not possibly ask for a better son. I… I…" Tears were coming faster now. He couldn’t say all the things that were rushing through his mind.

“I know, Father. Tradition. Harm’s way. You have to send me to Cerulea. You love me. You are going to miss me terribly. It hurts. I know, Father, I know.” Petrus was now shaking under Mat’s hug. “It hurts me, too. I will miss everything about our home. Our people. Our planet. But I’m prepared to meet my destiny. Most of all, Father, I’ll be missing you.”

Petrus allowed Mat’s prolonged embrace, each creating a lasting memory. After some time, Mat’s gaze was drawn to the window, trying to imagine Cerulea, a faraway point in the distant skies, while his Father gently wept.


Next Chapter: Janusia