Jim Rivers leads the crew aboard the Valiant Explorer, a mining spaceship which is lost in space. The two stars nearest them are going supernova – and they cannot outrun the explosion. Instead, they decide to turn back and fly toward the stars. The ship is coated with Trinite, a new metal which is impervious to heat, fire and decay. They stand the best chance of surviving the violence of the blast by hiding behind something when the explosion hits, and the closest thing to them is the larger of the two stars. The crew is manually applying the trinite to the ship, and the last compartment has yet to be sealed.
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Day Three Estimated 7 hours until Supernova. 6:00 PM
Jim left instructions to be called when they were ready to seal the last unit and it was time. The crew chiefs had held a lottery and selected five members, all of which by chance happened to be male. Vince, Tank, Ted, Jim and Billy Castle. The last five would draw straws; and Jim had one in his pocket that would make sure he lost. The rest of them were young, with full lives ahead to live. Jim was secure in his faith and not afraid to die.
He rose and went to the view port one last time. The white dwarf wasn’t small anymore, having gained through attrition. It sent fiery blasts of material into the corona around it with increased frequency as it became more and more unstable. Jim knew it was time to go. He checked the controls again; their angle of approach brought them in directly behind the larger star, while keeping the white dwarf in front of it. The view port would have to be closed and the trinite shield put in place; they were getting close to the sun.
When his relief arrived he turned the console over to him. He prayed as he headed for the last module, that his calculations were correct and that everyone would survive the blast and make it to Altera to reunite with their families and friends. It never occurred to him to pray that his life wouldn’t be given in vain. Jim simply didn’t think that way. There was work yet to be done. Jim prayed for the strength to finish it.
Ted Markham was also making his way down to the last module. His footsteps echoed on the metal floor panels that lined the hall. A blast of steam vented from a pipe near his head as he walked by, startling him and making him jump. Ted was one of the five, and he didn’t mind admitting that he was scared. He was pretty sure that Jim was going to volunteer, but he would need a second. Ted hurried along the dark corridor, surprised to find himself thinking that it looked a lot like the spaceship in the old movie Aliens. It had always been one of his favorites. Mankind had never encountered any intelligent aliens in space, at least not yet, but who knew what the future held? Did the future hold anything at all? Ted was terrified.
He slowed as he heard footsteps approaching. He hoped it was Jim; he wanted to talk to him one last time. Sure enough, Jim rounded the corner a moment later up ahead.
“Jim!” Ted said. He quickly caught up to the older man.
“Hey Ted,” Jim said.
“It’s time, eh?” Ted nodded.
“Yea. I wanted to ask you…” he looked around. He put his hands in his pockets and hesitated. “Did you pray for Amanda and Grace?”
“I did Ted, several times.” Jim smiled when Ted looked relieved. They approached the last module and Jim paused in the doorway. “I prayed for you too,” he said, stepping through the door. Ted wasn’t sure what to think of that.
“Alright everyone, let’s get organized here.” Vince called the group together. Half the ship had turned out to see the results of the last draw. “Now Jim here has five straws,” Jim held them up, “and he’s going to hold them together while we all pick. The shortest two go outside.” Everyone knew what that meant. The two losers would be the men who were sent outside to seal off the last module. Once sealed they would not be able to get back inside. It had to happen soon, as they were quickly approaching the dying suns and it would be too hot to work out there for much longer.
Jim nodded and held out the straws. The shortest one was deliberately held a little lower than the others. Human nature would lead the others to look for the longest straw, no one would intentionally pick a short one – or so he hoped. One by one, the men drew lots.
Jim was left with the shortest one. Billy Castle, an engineer in the agriculture department, had the bad luck to pick the second shortest.
At 5’ 5”, Billy was a slight man. He was a desk jockey, a nerd, and the thought of going outside of the ship absolutely galled him. His stomach felt a little queasy, this really wasn’t his department. He pressed his shirts and cleaned his fingernails and had a nice cut to his short blond hair. He didn’t go skydiving, or ride roller coasters or go outside of spaceships. What the hell was this crap about not getting back inside? Was it really the best they could do? A trickle of sweat ran down his neck and tickled all the way down his spine, raising the hair on his arms. He resisted a shiver by clenching his fists.
“The hell you say!” He said. He threw the straw at Jim and watched it bounce off his chest. “Who the hell said you get to tell me to go out there and kill myself, huh? That’s what this is, you know. Suicide!” He looked around the room at the others. Another drop of sweat gathered on his brow, then another. He was breathing through his nose loudly.
“I don’t have any better ideas Billy.” Jim said simply. “I just don’t. If you have a better idea I’d like to hear it. Maybe we can work it out where we can get you back in.”
Billy liked that idea. “Yea?” He uttered an expletive and then shook his head. “That leaves you outside still. This is not a good plan Jim.” Billy had a knot in his chest and kept sucking in air. He didn’t realize that he was panting like a racehorse.
“Damn Billy,” someone said. “Scared much?”
“Hey!” Billy looked around wildly for the speaker. “Easy for you to say dickhead, you didn’t get the short straw!”
Ted watched the exchange without emotion. There was no way this guy was going outside. He was too small for the job and if there was one thing Ted knew, you always brought the right tools to the job. If it was left up to this guy he was going to fold, and the entire ship would be at risk. The next words even caught him by surprise.
“I’ll go.” Everyone turned and looked.
“What?” Billy asked. He couldn’t see. “Who is that?”
“I said I’ll go.” Ted said. He was leaning against the doorway, hands in his pockets. Gradually people shifted until a clear walkway stretched in front of him to the center of the room where Jim and Billy waited. Ted straightened and walked over. “We’re running out of time. Billy, take off before I change my mind.”
Billy wasted no time. He shook Ted’s hand with tears in his own eyes. “I‘m, I just…”
Ted shook his hand and smiled sadly. “I know man, it’s alright. No shame.”
Billy nodded and turned away. His feet dragged as he walked away slowly, wiping his nose on the back of his hand. Several people reached out to pat his back but he waved them off and walked out of the room. He wasn’t a bad man; he just wasn’t ready to die here today.