"Star of Bethlehem" by Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon Aboard Unified Star Fleet Survey ship Pole Star (YSR-18) Arcadian Stellar Nursery -- 863 LY from Earth Sunday 24 November 2875 ERT (Earth Relative Time) Yvonne came into the cramped bridge just as Johann was reading out lists of mass objects detected by their drop tank from jump space. "Number 101 is probable brown dwarf. Number 102 is a probable sub-brown dwarf. Number 103 is potential red dwarf. Number 104 is..." "What’s going on, Sanj?" she asked. "Are we still in the stellar nursery?" "Yes," Captain Sanji Peterson replied. "You said we were going to get me home for Christmas. You promised." "It is the twenty-fourth of November, Earth Relative Time," Sanj said. "There is plenty of time to get you back to Earth in time for Christmas." "But you’re about to drop here." "Yes. We are going to drop in the next few minutes -- if you will let Johann finish setting our drop point for us." "We aren’t going to stop," Johann said, trying to be helpful. "We’ll get out data in about three minutes. Then we’ll jump again." "What does that have to do with anything?" "It will still be the twenty-fourth of November when we jump -- and when we drop at the next star," the captain said as patiently as he could. "I don’t understand." "I know you don’t. Most civilians don’t understand anti- relativistic jump." "Don’t patronize me," Yvonne said coldly. "I’m not," he said. "I’m merely trying to point out that you didn’t understand the last seven jumps we made -- and so I don’t expect you to this time either. Please let us do our job and we will get you home by Christmas." Yvonne stood coolly silent, arms folded. But everyone on the bridge could feel how much she really wanted to tap her foot or something to signal her impatience. If she hadn’t been a high school friend of the captain’s, they were sure she’d have been asked to leave long ago. "One minute." "Is the field still clear?" "As much as we can tell at this resolution." "Main engines?" "Waiting on standby -- fusor cores preheated to fifteen million Kelvin." "Then drop when you’re ready, Johann." "In three... two... one..." Though totally an artifact of the collapsing jump space bubble, all of them felt the drop in the pit of their stomachs. The illusion of free fall was powerful, even though their actual trajectory was laser straight and level. For a moment the drop tank brightened as smaller masses were visualized -- and the sudden cloud surrounding them was not exactly what was expected. But even as the image faded, Captain Sanji Peterson knew they were in serious trouble. "Engines -- full decel!" he bellowed, sluing the Pole Star about 180° as a hailstorm of rattling crackles beset the ship. A few bright streaks shrieked through the air -- even buried in the center of the ship as they were -- amazingly hitting no one. Warning lights appeared scattering across many of the command screens. "Fusors online -- coming up to ninety-three percent -- full decel." In twenty seconds the disturbing noises vanished and the Pole Star seemed to regain a measure of control. The bridge quieted for a moment, as everyone took a deep breath and checked to make sure there was no more substantial damage. "I’m sorry, Yvonne. I may have to amend my promise to you," the captain said sadly. "Meanwhile, I suggest you leave the bridge while we attend to our wounds." *** In the small galley, the ship’s cook Chico Garcea had put down his unneeded rescue and repair backpack, and resumed kneading dough for the afternoon baking. "I was thrown off the bridge," Yvonne said. "I’m not surprised," Chico said. "You were probably in the way." "I was off to the side!" she protested. "No -- you’re not part of the crew and you’re not trained to deal with disasters and emergencies. You were in the way." She might have argued further, but the fact was -- the cook was right. She had no role to play on the ship, especially on the bridge during an emergency. "I don’t know what’s going on." "Obviously." "You don’t have to be so cheerful about it." Chico shrugged. "Just stating facts. You’ve been aboard for three calendar months and you don’t know any more about star travel today than when you came aboard." "I’m an artist." "And I’m a cook." "I am not a scientist." "Neither am I, but I know the fundamentals of calendars and times in jump and during acceleration/deceleration. You not only don’t understand, you haven’t really made an attempt to understand." "I know I’m not going to make it back to Earth for Christmas." "What’s so important about Christmas? Besides the obvious, of course." "I have an art show -- The Star of Bethlehem Reconceived – in New York. There’s a special event on Christmas Eve I’m supposed to hostess." "Ah. Then you were supposed to be back to Earth for Christmas Eve, not Christmas." "You spacemen are always so damned literal." "It matters." "Well it matters that I’m stuck out here and I haven’t a clue as to why." Chico shrugged. "Why don’t you ask the captain? He’s standing behind you." Yvonne whirled around to see Captain Peterson pouring hot water over a disk of tea leaves. "What the hell just happened?" she demanded. "The miracle of star birth," Sanj noted quietly. "Star 101- 083 has just lit up and its solar wind is now sweeping its system of excess gas and debris. We were caught in its spray. It’s brilliant, actually. Exactly what we came here hoping, but not expecting, to see." "What did you mean about your promise?" Yvonne asked. "Our particle deflection system cannot deal with this amount of material. In order to survive, I’ve had to fire up our main engines. Their exhaust deflects any part of the solar clearing wind from hitting us. So we are no longer taking damage. On the other hand, we are now decelerating towards Star 101-083. We will be in stellar orbit in... what’s the latest calculation?" Johann had just come in and was pouring himself a mug of coffee. "At ninety-three percent decel -- fifteen days." "In fifteen days we will be able to begin our boost -- and in another fifteen days we shall be able to jump." "We’ll be here a whole month." "Yes, Yvonne. And so I won’t have you home on Christmas, I’m sorry to say. On the other hand, we are alive -- and given what has happened, this is not so very insignificant." *** Late on the ninth of December, the Fleet Survey ship Pole Star passed by star 101-083. "So we’re going out the way we came in?" Yvonne asked. "No," Sanj said. "Why do you think so?" "You said the engines had to keep pointing to the star." "To the solar clearing wind. Essentially the same thing. But we were able to add some lateral thrust vectors..." "English please," Yvonne said with a slight smile. "If we’d kept going straight in, we’d have impacted on the star. So we went around it." "Oh. Another thing I didn’t know." "There’s a whole universe out here." "Chico said that I haven’t learned anything out here. But that isn’t true." "And what have you learned, Yvonne?" Sanj asked. "Stars don’t twinkle out in vacuum. But they do in these gas fields. And for another thing, I’ve discovered that those bright crosses on stars are artifacts of the technical equipment. I had to put them back in for my images -- your computers took them out." "True." "Your new star. It’s quite remarkable." "It’s still settling down. Very interesting." "You want to stay." Sanj shook his head. "We can’t. This ship isn’t built for it. We were tasked to this mission because the odds of having the star light up were so low. It takes a very long time for light to reach the surface of a star from its core. A very long time." "So we’re going." "Indeed." *** Yvonne frowned at the displays she saw on the bridge. After fifteen days of boost and two jumps, she was stunned to realize that the star they were dropping near was 101-083. "But why?" "We had to turn around anyway. We cannot jump to Earth in one jump from this far out." "But it’s been another month." "Another month in jump space -- not real space. The actual jumps take place in zero time." "So...?" "It’s still the twenty-fourth of December on Earth." "And you’re dropping back at 101-083." "Only for three minutes." "That’s what you said the last time." "This time we know what to look for." Johann came over. "We’re ready, captain. I can compensate for relativity on the main screen." "Whenever you hit the mark then." As they dropped, Yvonne watched the featureless gray of jump space darken to purest black on the main screen -- and then the stars faded in. But it was the magnified dark red mottled disk in the center which attracted her attention. "Thirty seconds in -- event in twenty seconds." Patches of orange and then yellow appeared across the star’s surface. In less than a minute the whole star became aglow and brightened. The computers worked hard to keep the image in the tolerable range. "Thirty seconds to the wave front." "Do we have all the data?" Sanj asked. "Yes, captain." "Then jump." "Jumping... in three... two... one..." The newly born sun faded to gray. "Thank... thank you, Sanj," Yvonne managed to say. "That was beautiful." "You’re quite welcome." "It makes up for missing my New York event." "I didn’t want to get your hopes up, but we may still get you there." "I don’t understand. Even if we drop into the solar system and it’s still December twenty-fourth, won’t we be traveling at nearly the speed of light? Then it’s fifteen days to slow down." "True. But I’m bringing us in a track which will require Fleet to meet us with a courier ship. I’ll spare you the details, but you’ll make Earth orbit about three in the afternoon New York time." "Oh, Sanj!" Yvonne threw her arms around her old friend and embraced him. "Thank you! And I have a couple of weeks in jump space to paint this new star and add it to the exhibit. It’s exactly why I came out here. I still don’t understand, but this is the best Christmas present ever." "It’s not the only one," Sanj said, gently freeing himself. "As the senior scientist, I have the right to give Star 101-083 a colloquial name. I’m thinking of naming it Bethlehem. A new bright star in the heavens on the eve of Christ’s birth. Seems appropriate, doesn’t it?" "You’ll probably tell me later that it’s all some quirk of relativity..." "It is." "But I’ll take it. Thank you, Sanj." "You’re quite welcome. And Merry Christmas."