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Chapter One

Eyes Among the Stars

 

     Marooned in outer space was not the way Johnny Starrider wanted to celebrate his thirteenth birthday. But there he sat, squeezed into a cramped cockpit with an inoperable helm, his powerless starjet coasting along a glide path that so far had carried him a thousand kilometers off course. Boy was his dad going to be mad.

    "It has to be glitch demons," Johnny said, combing his fingers through his blond hair while he scanned the sputtering console. "Light years worse than gremlins. Why do they constantly climb into my electronics?"

    "A standard review of the departure checklist," said the computer's monotone voice, "would have revealed--"

     "Oh, so this is my fault? Sergeant Fist is supposed to keep these crafts flight-ready and on standby for me. I'm out here to oversee a pioneering experiment. What I need, Computer, is attitude control--speed, pitch, yaw--not your lecture."

     "What you need, sir, is an attitude adjustment."

     "No, I need my computer emergency repair lit--a hammer!"

     How dare this mere device speak to him in this manner. He was a Starrider, for gravity's sake. His family had designed and built this glorified calculator. Maybe reprogramming would resolve its impertinence. He'd have his dad write a code for respect when he returned home. Right now he needed engine power.

     "Okay, Computer," Johnny said. "You run down the checklist and make repairs. I have another demon to deal with--my tool of a brother." He turned his head toward the portside window and glanced aft. Out past the forward-swept wings of his red Kestrel Class starjet, another starjet, a blue one, was tagging along.

     Luckily the communications system on Johnny's ship still functioned, but visuals only, no audio. A peculiar overlay of thermal snow swept through the console monitor, but he could still see his twin brother staring back. Mad. What a tool!

     "Can you hear my now?" Johnny shouted, unable to hold back a grin. He flicked a console switch. "Can you hear me now?" And still another switch. "How 'bout now?"

     Jody flailed his arms like a madman in his own cramped cockpit. His black bangs swung back and forth across his eyes like a voltaic panel flapping in the solar wind.

     "What?" Johnny shrugged then cupped a hand around his ear the way hid Grandpa Joseph sometimes did. "Eh? Eh?"

     Jody cupped both his hands around his mouth and shouted something.

    "I don't read lips, you know," Johnny said. "Speak louder!"

     Jody dropped his arms, took a deep breath, and screamed so hard his eyes bugged.

     "Come on, Little Brother, out with it. Don't be so shy."

     Jody balled up a fist and punched the air.

     Johnny gave a huge grin. He had his brother right where he wanted. He twisted an imaginary optical cable into a noose, pulled the knot close to his neck, crossed his eyes, and flopped out his tongue.

     The radio's sound snapped on.

     "I'm going to strangle you, alright," Jody blared. "Turn up the volume so the whole galaxy can hear what I think of you."

     Johnny released his noose. "Cool your jets, Little Brother."

     "Stop calling me little," Jody said, his voice mixing with audio static. "You're older only by thirty-two seconds. What's the holdup, anyway? Why are we off course?"

     "My Navigation Computer developed an attitude," Johnny answered, thumping the console speaker while the monitor snow thickened. "And it let a glitch demon sneak on board."

     "Another one? Look, we don't have much time left. The countdown is down to--"

     "T-minus four minutes nineteen seconds," announced Johnny's computer.

     At least the computer was maintaining accurate time, maybe its way of showing respect for this project. Johnny sighed and leaned his head back against the cushiony leather seat, still convinced inertia would carry his starjet further out into the galaxy. Of course, he wouldn't mind visiting a few stars. Ever since the age of two, when he first put his eye against a telescope lens, he dreamed of exploring the heavens. Now he lived among those stars. Glancing starboard, he spotted the gray moon and the vivid blue Earth in a cosmic dance. the moon, in mid-eclipse, sent a shadowy glob creeping across the face of his former home. Johnny'd love to turn his vessel around and fly down into the clouds above the planet, pierce a few holes and zip high over the ocean whitecaps. But not today.

     Straight ahead, a tiny silver twinkle float3ed in front of the star-filled black background. The Particle Accelerator was ready to implement science's first attempt to capture the universe's most mysterious force--Dark Energy. He'd thought up the working theory, all by himself, and no snooty computer oversight would keep him from witnessing history in the making, his history. He needed to rendezvous with that dot long before the countdown ended.

     "Hey, Johnny," Jody said, "haven't you noticed how weird all this is? It's our thirteen birthday, it's January 13, 2091, it's a Friday, and all nine planets are in alignment. Like we're part of a cosmological convergence."

     "You're imagining things. It's just science at its best." The weird part was Johnny had always felt like he had been steered to this point in time, to this spot in space. Somehow. he sensed he was fulfilling someone else's destiny.

     Two years ago in Astrophysics Class, he read about a supernova 7.24 light years away within the Milky Way galaxy that produced a shockwave so massive it would travel all the way to Earth. Since Dark Energy permeated the universe, he calculated it'd be condensed in the shockwave's wake and an Accelerator could collect and store a sample after filtering out all known energy like gamma rays and cosmic rays. Right now, the shockwave was sweeping through the Mars system, barreling across the solar system, and heading right toward him and the Accelerator. Once he saw his console's Cosmic Radiation Spectrometer bouncing at the redline level then he'd know a successful sample had been captured. In just four minutes the moment he'd been waiting for would take place. His ship better be working by then.

     "Don't forget what's important," Johnny said, whipping his blond bangs away from his eyes. "Someday Dark Energy will be developed into a fuel for interstellar engines. Future space travelers could tap into it as a perpetual fuel source, maybe even fly to another galaxy. I plan to fly to Venus and putt golf balls, then hopscotch to Europa and ski the moon's ice canyons. If DaVinci, Einstein, and Sagan were still alive, they'd be pretty envious."

     "But I've got a bad feeling about being out here," Jody said.

     "And I've got everything covered."

     "You always say that, Johnny, but you know SkyGuard is out trolling for intruders. What if you get us arrested for stealing these starjets?"

     "Stealing? They're borrowed. Besides, I didn't want to spend the morning sitting through Ol' Craterface's lecture on arbitrary divisible tangents. Trigonometry may be easy, but it's boring. And it ain't rocket science. This is rocket science."

     "What about Dad? You know how he gets."

     "We'll sneak these candy stores back on the hangar deck long before he gets home from work. Now have fun with this, and don't be such a tool."

     "I'm the tool? You're the pain in the family."

     "Okay, okay, I don't want to argue. Defragment. Chill."

     "Don't tell me to chill. I'm a Starrider, too, and I'm responsible for half the calculations that'll make our experiment work."

     "A third."

     "Half."

     "A third."

     "Half. I'm telling Mom."

     "Complain, complain. Doesn't anything excite you?'

     "No."

     "Jody, look at that moon. It's solid black with a ring of red light surrounding the sun's rim. And those orange prominences? Don't they resemble lightning bolts frozen in time?"

     "Now you're imagining things."

     Johnny knew what caused Jody's irritable attitude--hormones, the adolescent thing Mom said would be flaring. He was infected. Thank Sunspots Johnny didn't have that problem.

     "Can we get on with this, please?" Jody radioed. "I don't care what Procurement said about these envirosuits. I refuse to use the diapers."

     "T-minus three min . . . standby, standby," announced the computer.


    

    

    

    


      





    

    


Book 1

Star Child Saga

A Middle Grade Series               Ages 9-12

Copyright 2013 C. J. Atticus

Illustrations Copyright 2013 Angelika Domschke

Pages 411    

Twin thirteen-year-old brothers compete for their father's love during Earth's greatest threat--the Singularity.


The Dark Energy