THE HORIZON PROJECT

PROLOGUE

The horizon project was mankind's first and most triumphant attempt to reach out across the galaxy in order to visit another species by invitation. It was, in fact mankind's biggest and boldest reach in technology and self-sacrifice. It was a one-way trip for anyone going to the planet being called the 'horizon' planet. A trip of seventy-three thousand light years would take a generational ship or at the very least a very, very long sleep ship. The later was chosen to minimize the amount of resources needed to keep the six thousand five hundred crew and passengers alive.

It was always assumed any advanced alien race would send a probe to make contact with us instead of traveling here in person and that is exactly what occurred in the year 2028. A probe arrived in earth orbit on January 1st 2028. Scientists where baffled as to where the probe came from at first and who had sent it. The day it arrived it started transmitting a coded signal that interrupted all earth based digital satellite and television signals. It was transmitting lines of code consisting of 1's and 0's in strings. It was in fact computer code. There was a massive amount of code. The transmissions would last 20 minutes and then stop and repeat again 24 hours later. The most disturbing fact was that the code was in English style 1's and 0's. They, whoever they were knew about us, and how to communicate with us at the most fundamental level for the time.

Once the code was recognized and fed into the super computers of the day, it was determined that the information was an invite directed to the 'humans' of earth to come forth and take our place amongst the stars. This actually worried the military greatly. The message indicated an intimate knowledge of who we are as a species.

Once the message was completely deciphered it was learned that the race that sent the message included a star map indicating their home world was in one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way on the other side of galaxy. It was assumed that they were thousands of years more advanced than us and had been studying us for a very long time. How they did this from so far away was unclear. Perhaps via mental projection, maybe they had the ability to see across time and space. We wouldn't know until we went and asked them in person.

The invite in part read: "To the Humans of Earth we send friendly greetings. In the spirit of cooperation and knowledge we invite you. Come to the Horizon planet; take your place among the stars. There will be those from among you that have a destiny of great salvation and mercy. We await their presence with great anticipation." Thus the 'horizon' projects name was born. The race that sent the probe never used a name for themselves, such as 'Humans'. The message also seemed to indicate a date. 2078. It was concluded that it was intended as a departure date for us.

The fact that this probe transmitted its message to the whole world for six weeks before the message could be deciphered meant the governments of the world couldn't hide the probes existence or sequester its technology for only one nation or group's use. This probe was here for all of us and the whole world knew it.

The other piece of information that confounded the scientists was the path the probe took to reach earth and the amount of time the probe hade been active. Much like our own computer driven devices, the probe had an imbedded chronometer that indicated it had only been active for ten years. Seventy-three thousand light years in ten years did not seem possible. There was obviously some piece of technology for traveling vast distances through space at many times the speed of light, which we simply had no concept of yet.

This intrigued astronomers studying the probes origin based on the star map contained within its code. The probe had traveled straight up out of the ecliptic of the galaxy and then used a blue giant star to gain a sling shot gravity assist trajectory to earth. The path could be backtracked all the way to the 'horizon' planet, but there was no indication of speed, as we know it. Just time and distance which left every one scratching their heads. The calculations derived from these data points where hard to believe, but numbers don't lie.

It was finally decided by world consensus that a ship would be built and sent toward the 'horizon' planet. The technologies needed did not even exist for many of the major systems. Many of the systems and devices needed were invented just for the project. As it turned out, once the world became involved in the manufacturing and distribution of the billions of components needed, the US government lifted its long held practice of hiding and hording of advanced technologies from the citizens of the world. Many of the power generation and propulsion systems that were brought to bear were extremely cutting edge and advanced. Anti-matter propulsion and gravimetric and electro-gravitational drives and generators where just a few of the revolutionary devices. Much of the technology the government provided they would not say where it came from, only that it worked, had been field tested for a very long time and was safe. Most of the people working with this new technology realized it had been captured or recovered or given to us by 'others'. They were simply told, "don't ask to many questions, just take it, use it, and shut up."

Once chemical rockets were quickly made obsolete within the first six months, gravity drive shuttles where carrying thousands of tons of cargo and supplies into orbit every day where the 'horizon' was being constructed. On some days, thousands of cargo shuttles could be seen lifting into the sky from every continent and even more were coming back down.

The way every nation on earth was participating and contributing was miraculous. A truly unifying effort had been born. Of course the technology that was being shared and learned about by all nations was truly uplifting. Transportation, clean free power generation, waste disposal, incinerators that operated at millions of degrees with electro-magnetic containment plasma and in the final days of computer design a true AI was developed to run the ship with a triple redundant quantum level computing core.

This AI could think every bit as fast as a human brain and was capable of growing beyond its original programming. The AI was tied into every single system on the vessel and with its fleet of servo drones as they were being called it could self maintain and repair the vessel virtually indefinitely with human intervention only being necessary for the equipment and support structures located in extremely remote or gravity free spaces. The servo drones had small particle accelerators that created power and small gravitational fields, which they floated on.

The vessel was truly gigantic. The 'horizon' was two and a half kilometers long and one and a half kilometers in diameter. It could bee seen clearly with the naked eye from the ground. Once the outer skin was installed which was an odd off white color after the coating cured, the vessel almost looked like it glowed when viewed from the ground especially when the sun shown on it just right. The vessel was roughly log shaped with a round protrusion in the front where the command decks, crew quarters, mess decks, gymnasiums and the main weapon were all located. The center most portion of the vessel where the stasis chambers and air-ponics bays and several hectares of farming were located, spun continuously to create centripetal gravity. The farming was performed by a special fleet of servo drones and was done on every available square inch of the outer surface of the spinning central section. The food grown would be processed into a high-energy paste of sorts and fed to the sleeping passengers through their stasis chambers.

The stasis chambers were amazing pieces of technology. They were roughly egg shaped with the top surface being made of a new material that was actually crystalline aluminum and quartz fuzzed at the molecular level. It was being called "transparent aluminum" but it actually contained more quartz than aluminum. It looked like glass but was hard as diamonds with slight flexibility like that of aluminum. This was necessary because the gravimetric pulses that the engines produce during acceleration propagate through the whole vessel. Hard glass it was feared would likely crack resulting in the death of the capsule occupant. The rest of the capsule was made of a new alloy that could only be produced in a smelting fire at a temperature of eight thousand degrees or higher. The alloy looked like polished stainless steel, but was far harder. It was as light as titanium and was non-conductive. It was also 100% non-porous.

The stasis process was based on the hibernation technique of the lungfish. The occupant is surrounded by a liquid suspension solution and the neural processes are directly interfaced and controlled through a trans-dermal interface at the base of the scull. The body is literally put to sleep and the pituitary and pineal glands are controlled and regulated directly. The interface delivers small electrodes directly through the brain stem. The electrodes are smaller than a human hair and are directed to specific locations by the AI's stasis sub co-processor systems.

The system also monitors brainwave activity. If anomalous readings are detected the system influences the brain waves to maintain a safe and steady alpha, beta and delta wave pattern. It was deemed early on that if a nightmare occurred and the mind could not wake itself up, a person could in fact scare them selves to death. This mental trauma needed to be avoided at all costs. In fact, the only time dreams would even be possible was every 30 to 40 days when the body was brought into a very deep sleep state for cleaning and stasis fluid change, then the occupant was returned to a coma like sleep and put back in stasis.

Through this same technique information could be subconsciously introduced to the memory center of the brain. In essence, learning without schooling. This was particularly useful if a system on the vessel had to be taught to an individual prior to the wake sequence in order to facilitate repairs or modifications. A person would not remember the information it would simply be instinctively available. A person could look at control panel they had never seen before and know what the controls do and how to operate them with perfect competency. The Horizon was simply too complex and vast for any one individual to know all of its systems.

The occupants in their stasis chambers could be maintained virtually indefinitely as long as power was provided to the chamber and food and water were in plentiful supply. The younger occupants, under the age of seven would never experience any ageing and the ageing process for the older crew was substantially reduced, decades for centuries in anyone over the age of fifty and months for centuries in teen-agers.

The one aspect of stasis that bothered most was the fact that the occupants had to be completely naked and the top of the stasis chambers could be seen through. No matter the age or gender, all occupants would be nude. No foreign matter could be present in the chambers including body hair and complete visibility was a must in order to check on a person's well being with just a glance. There where overhead lights that turned on with a touch and shown directly down on the chamber and then turned off as soon as the hand was removed. Since there would only be one person awake at any given time to help maintain and monitor the ship once out of the solar system, it was deemed a necessary evil that very few people would be put in a position to abuse.

The engine design for the vessel was continuously upgraded right up until time for departure from earth space. When construction began top speed would be one hundred fifty thousand miles per hour, the equivalent of traveling from the earth to the moon in one and a half hours. By completion that had been improved to more than seven and a half times the speed of light, or 1,450,800 miles per second. In galactic terms it was still slow but the AI would be able to continue to improve its engine output over time.

There were even some theories about stretching or collapsing space to the point of creating a compressive singularity and then letting the singularity collapse on itself and then riding the shockwave like a surfer riding the crest of an ocean wave. There was however no practical way to test the theories in the time available except in computer simulations which had mixed results, most disastrous of which was the total destruction of the horizon because the power needed to strengthen the structural integrity fields of the hull so the shock wave did not crush the hull just was not possible. These theories and many more were uploaded into the AI core for later consideration and possible testing while in route to the 'horizon planet'.

With the entire planet working toward the goal of completion by 2078 the 'Horizon' was actually completed by the summer of 2077. Why the probe specifically specified 2078 for launch was never completely understood. It was theorized that it was known that humans where capable of true greatness only when we come together as a species and when we are pushed to achieve an extraordinary goal on a schedule. If we had been left to our own time line, it may have been centuries before the 'Horizon' would be completed if at all. As it is the global employment rate at its peak during construction was at 85 %. The entire planet experienced a technological renaissance. No idea was considered to crazy or beyond consideration. In fact many of the sub systems were ideas from complete nobodies with great ideas and ambition.

The last six and a half months that the 'Horizon' spent close to earth was actually spent in lunar orbit. This minimized the power needed to stay close to earth while the crew and passenger selection was completed. The lunar orbit also provided the opportunity to test and calibrate the electromagnetic shielding technology. The entire vessel was encased in an electromagnetic shield exactly like that of the earth so as to protect the biological life on board from cosmic radiation. The selection process for the crew and passengers was designed to find the healthiest and smartest individuals the Earth had to offer from all over the world. Many of the children selected to board were of extraordinary mental aptitude and had enjoyed perfect health their entire lives. Genetic diversity was a primary consideration and so no families larger than immediate nuclear families were to be accepted. Mother, father and their immediate offspring numbering no more than two was all that would be accepted. The oldest to be accepted was a 51-year-old woman and the youngest was a 3-year-old boy.

Once the last passenger was onboard and in stasis, the 20 remaining crewmembers of the 500 total crew aimed the 'Horizon' straight up out of the ecliptic of the galaxy and engaged the engines at 100% thrust and a gravity well was formed in front of the ship that it was drawn into until it encased the entire vessel. From the earth-based telescopes it just looked as though the 'Horizon' turned pointing into deep space and then there was a flash and then the vessel simply disappeared. Once a firm course for the red giant star was plotted and laid in the crew climbed into their stasis chambers one by one until only one crewman remained. His was the first 10-year watch.

The red giant star would be used as a slingshot gravity assist point and a turning point to start heading back down into and across the galaxy. This course would avoid the dense and radioactively deadly center bulge of the galaxy. This would also mark the point at which the next crewman would be brought out of stasis and the original crewman would go into stasis. One year out from the horizon planet all the adults would be brought out of stasis. Six months later the children would be revived.

That was the plan anyway. Fate and galactic bad luck intervened to change all that.