Mikhail Petrov sat in the command module of the Sundiver as it plunged toward the surface of the Sun. He looked at the readouts and fought the urge to do something - a slight adjustment here or there - but the automatic controls were working at one hundred percent efficiency. He now realized why so many back on Earth believed this to be an insane mission: flying into the center of the Sun to make a time-space jump to a new star system seem even incredible to him now that he was seconds from the Sun’s surface.
The ship’s special ceramic skin was now glowing a dull cherry red from the heat it had already absorbed; the glare of the approaching star hid their glow from his view.
Petrov was thrown forward as the ship impacted the surface and then back as the ship broke through a seemingly solid barrier and began its dive through the Sun’s fiery substance. He was still alive, which told him his theory that a plasma shield coupled with a ceramic hull made from near-collapsed mater could protect him was correct. Now the big test: could he survive the thermonuclear heat of the Sun’s center and jump to the Sirius system? It had taken him so long to reach this point that he now truly thought God was guiding him.
Ten years earlier
Robert Davis, CEO of the largest software company in the world, sat back and lit a Cuban cigar (which cost a king’s ransom and violated a dozen federal and state anti-smoking laws) as he listened to the strange little man with the insane idea.
“The Ark ship now being built in orbit will take hundreds of years to reach another star system but my design will make the same trip in an instant.”
“And all we have to do is fly into the Sun to do this wondrous feat.” Davis suppressed a laugh only because Petrov was considered one of the leading minds of this age.
Davis looked out the floor to ceiling window and saw the reason so many wanted to leave Earth. A little less than five years ago the Yellowstone caldera erupted devastating most of North America. It also ushered in a new Ice Age which threatened Europe with an icy death.
“You can see the simulations bore out my calculations.” Davis’s attention returned to Petrov as he waved at a wall screen filled with charts and graphs.
“And what is it you need from me?”
“I need you to help me raise twenty billion dollars.”
Davis was surprised. He’d thought the man was going to ask for something insanely hard.
‘Close now,’ Petrov thought as the turbulent superheated gases outside threw the Sundiver about. The temperature was in the millions of degrees. The plasma shield kept the stuff from touching the hull, and left a few inches of separation while the ceramic hull itself storied the incredible heat.
There was nothing for him to do but to hold on and pray he was right, because the hull would disintegrate within a few minutes of reaching the solar center if it couldn’t radiate the heat.
One year earlier
Petrov looked out the great view wall on Station Twenty. They were passing over North America and all that could be seen was the cloud tops. Where Montana should be, there was a sinister red glow of the still-erupting caldera.
It was as if God was terraforming the Earth, wiping it clean for His next experiment. It was also God’s eviction notice to man; a notice that only a few so far have heeded. Davis and his fellow billionaires had long since left Earth on their Ark Ship. Petrov had been left in charge of the Sundiver project, and its billions in funds. The rest of humanity were busy fighting for the few warm places that could suport agriculture.
The ship was almost completed and Petrov had rejected the entire pilot candidate list, save one: himself. He felt that no one should risk their life on his theory.
Now the ship really began to buck about. Even the great nuclear pulse engine could no longer overcome the enormous pressure and temperature.
The computer began a verbal count; “30...29...28.” Petrov braced himself for the event.
A wave of intense nausea and vertigo stuck him like a hammer and just as he felt he was going to pass out the feeling cleared.
Checking the command modules instruments and activating the view screen verified all his dreams. The screen was clear of the Sun and now a star field was all that there could be seen with the bright blue dot of Sirius in the center!
After a moment he noticed the incoming message light blinking on the console. He opened the communication channel and changed human history for the second time in an hour.
“Welcome, Man, to the Galaxy.”