The Ultimate Sacrifice

by: Anton McClure

A short story based on and inspired by The Life Outside Known Space.

Copyright © 2022, Anton McClure. All rights reserved.

Portions of the publication, including, but not limited to the "Democratic People's Republic of California", "New World", and "THE THREE WORDS", are all Copyright © 2018-2022 by Adam McClure, and used with permission. All rights are reserved by the aforementioned author.

This publication is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

First edition, 2022

First published on 2022/02/16

Summary: Expecting the worst has happened, management and their buddies make a swift exit out of the nation, and the top remaining official messes up greatly in his effort not to delay the rocket launch.


Ground control was in a panic. Nobody knew what to do anymore besides unplugging all of the computers and leaving the building, pretending they were never there all year.

There was a tiny computing issue that everyone overlooked.

The code sample the ground control team had received from the development team was supposed to send the flight paths BEFORE sending the rocket into light speed. What they got was a buggy mess that put the rocket at light speed, and then it sent each flight path coordinate one by one, waiting for an "acknowledgment" response from the rocket before sending the next. They could not stop the program since the CTRL+C key bind was re-mapped to start sending the command list from the very beginning.

Cora Hughes and Lawrence Sanders sit in the boardroom, both sobbing hysterically and shredding papers, knowing full well that President Hendrix in all his poor and rushed judgment will try to pin the blame on all of management. Even the marketing department won't be safe from his wrath if the President finds out that the programs and rocket the government wasted SR$5 quadrillion on is somewhere out in deep space with ALIENS studying the programs.

Humans only have four things they consider for software freedoms, but these aliens are known to have FIVE things. They will never tell anyone the fifth freedom though.

Cora and Larry try to discuss what their next plans are going to be through the sniffles and tears.

She hears the sound of computers getting unplugged and knocked over, and she applies the blast shields to the outside of the building and then locks the fire door separating the employee and management parts of the building. Yelling and pounding are heard on the fire door now, and the building's shared fire alarm system gets triggered by an employee wanting to go home. They both realize they thought of something, start to stop crying and begin to talk coherently again, this time, a bit louder over the alarms now chirping in the background.

"We need to leave." Cora says.

Larry looks back at her and comments "Why do we have five different alarm types on one floor? Did building maintenance not replace all of them at one time?" She stares at him and says "Focus, Larry... I got it figured out."

Larry, shredding papers again, looks at her and says "What is it?"

She picks up the phone and calls the entire marketing and upper management teams into the small office space, and begins to yell her plan over the continuous chirps. "WE ARE GOING TO TAKE THESE PAPERS, TAKE THE ONE WITH YOUR NAME, AND PASS THE REST AROUND." A commotion starts among the marketers and managers when they notice the papers have seals for the "Democratic People's Republic of California", and people start trying to tell her that they will all get shot at the border when they try to defect.

Larry interjects: "Why? We aren't from Summit... We were NEVER from Summit... If asked, we don't know what Summit is... I'll just tell them it's some sad Penguin server hosted virtually in the Republic of Quebec, but y'all will need to come up with your own excuses. Henceforth, we're all from California, and we... uh... speak Spanish... like they do... in... uh... California. We just moved here on a... uh... temporary work visa. These re-entry permits... uh... Purr-miss-oh Day Ree-in-grass-oh Par-ah See-you-day-dan-us Why See-you-day-dan-os Day La REpublica Popular Democratica Day California... or whatever they're called... were sent to us by a 'friend', the customs sub-secretariat from the Minus-stereo Day Relations Exteriors. They are all valid, so... uh... VAH-MOSS AY CALIFORNIA!"

Cheers are heard from the management and marketers, as they break a window, climb out, and rush to their cars to flee the building. A few managers stack the room's chairs and tables against the door so that "lesser employees" can't get out from the window.

Back in the employee section, they were able to hack the blast shields off. Curtis Shaw calls the government office in a panic. "MANAGEMENT HAS DESERTED US!" he yells. The president's adviser, in shock, says back "WHAT DO YOU MEAN? DID THEY LEAVE? We were going to launch the diplomat's rocket today!"

Curtis yells to the crew, while still on the phone, "This mission shall now be lead by I, Curtis Shaw. I am your boss now! Plug in your computers, we're launching a rocket on our own, today!" The crew cheers and patriotically sets the computers back upright and turns them on. Curtis hangs up the phone, and yells "NO MANAGER WILL TELL US HOW TO LAUNCH A ROCKET ANYMORE!"

An hour later, the union's diplomats arrive in black bulletproof cars. Curtis Shaw approaches them alone, now wearing Larry's backup suit so he can feel more important than he was.

President Sean Hendrix is helped out of the limo by an adviser. His health didn't seem to improve after the surgery like the Ministry of Space Travel and Exploration's staff hoped it would.

"Ah, Mr Sanders! It's been a while since I last saw you!" President Hendrix says. Curtis, now also pretending to be Larry, salutes and says "It sure has! We are ready to launch the rocket."

"That's wonderful! The doctors said I should stay at the office today, but I didn't want to. I survived the capital fire, 9 assassination attempts, 3 car crashes, and getting pecked by a flock of emus, so I should be fine." President Hendrix says, as he takes a cane and walks to the launching ground with his advisers.

President Hendrix looks over at Curtis. He notices the suit, and says while tearing up a bit "It's wonderful to see you still have the suit I bought you for my first inauguration ceremony since the war left you unable to buy one yourself!"

Curtis, unsure of what to say or think, just nods, and they walk to the launch site. He introduces the staff to the President.

"President Hendrix, this is Payload Coordinator Marcel Contreras, Flight Path Operator Kayla Fitzpatrick, and Flight Communications Operators Morgan Fletcher and Natasha Fox." Curtis says, pointing to the group.

The staff members stare at Curtis in disbelief that he's wearing Larry's suit, and they walk off in protest. "In complete disbelief that Curtis would fake being Larry, I think we should leave," says Natasha. "Sorry, Mr President." President Hendrix just stares back with a bewildered face. Curtis now needs to figure out how to do the launch himself.

Everyone sits at the designated safe zone looking out at the rocket. The news agency finally shows up at the scene.

The anchor goes live and says "We're live at the scene of a historic rocket launch -- The Federal Government and international allies will be joining the Bright Future crew on a rocket of their own: 'Bright Future Rocket Number 2 for Politicians, Elected Officials and other Government Staff'!" Media drones fly around the rocket taking dramatic shots. The government officials in their government suits walk up, waving to some drone cameras. "Our officials are now boarding the rocket."

Once the last person enters, President Hendrix announces, "The Prime Minister wants to go to space, can he join them?" The news anchor, slightly annoyed by the interruption live on the air, looks over and says "He's already on the rocket."

"Oh, good!" he says as he watches the rocket again.

The news anchor talks while the broadcast displays charts and graphics of the rocket. "The rocket will give those on board optimal space to perform normal activities, in the most efficient way possible. At the government's request, it is now possible for the crew to not need to wear spacesuits while in the rocket at all until they need to open a door to the outside! The first rocket is the exact same design, but we didn't announce this feature then so this would be more noticeable her- OH I wasn't supposed to read that note on the teleprompter again..." The president was amazed at hearing about the money not getting wasted on spacesuit use in the rocket.

Curtis begins the countdown process. As it gets to ten seconds remaining, Flight Supply Manager Tobias Hart notices that the supply hatch isn't latching closed properly and he overrides the flight to have someone fix it. Fixing the hatch will delay the launch by a week.

Curtis looks at him with a shocked face. "Nobody goes against I, Curti...ctor Sand...erson... and hi...MY direct orders!" Tobias just says "It's 'nobody goes against me', but go off I guess" and starts to walk away too, saluting the President as he walks by. President Hendrix stops him and invites Tobias to join him in the seat that the Prime Minister normally would have sat in.

After talking on the phone a bit, Curtis approaches the President and says "Good news, I was able to find a crew! They're from the United Kingdoms of America, and they will be able to get over here in an hour by plane! I heard they have far greater planes!" Curtis's tone would make anyone that heard him think he had discovered the ultimate meaning of the "New World" paper fragment with "THE THREE WORDS".

President Hendrix wants to say something to Curtis but doesn't. He then just says "I hope they do a good job!" trying to sound happy after Curtis told him to his face that Summit has bad planes.

An hour and a half of stalling later, the strikebreakers arrive by landing their plane poorly at the launch site. They manage to hit a few parked cars, a small truck with backup supplies, along with the President's hand-picked Launch-grounds Inspector General. The now late Launch-grounds Inspector General, Jonathan Hastings, was one of President Hendrix's long-time friends that he met in his last year of high school. One guy gets out and looks at the damage. "I can just buff it out in a- [burp] minute, no worry." he says, drinking a whole can of beer between words. This was the pilot they were seeing. He was also somehow certified as the best pilot in the United Kingdoms of America!

The crew enters and begins re-configuring the computers to match how they do things back in the kingdoms. Nobody asked anyone for permission to do so.

"Okay, what do you need us to do, Curtis?" one crew member says. Curtis says, looking occasionally at President Hendrix, "Who? I'm Director Sanderso...SANDERS!"

The member says "Oh, I thought you were that awkward guy I spoke on the phone to. My name's Nate. You don't remember me?" Curtis responds blankly with a nasal "No..." and Nate, now sad, just gets to work.

Checking the computer, he verifies that the latch is closed now. Curtis restarts the rocket launch immediately without validating Nate's claims.

Everyone watches, the suspense is growing. And then, the rocket takes off. Everyone begins to cheer and sing the national anthem at the sight of the rocket with the national flag and the Presidential Seal painted on the side blasting off.

The news anchors all start interviewing President Hendrix on his thoughts on the flight. "This is a great moment for the Summit Republic and all of its citizens! Now, if it wasn't for the Galactic Effort of the Summit Federation, which I liked to call the 'Galactic Federation', the one nation that put exploring space over war, we would not be where we are now! This is a historic day!"

The anchor interviews Curtis. "So Mr Sanders--"

"That's DOCTOR SANDERS to you..." Curtis rudely snaps back.

The interviewer continues. "So, Doctor, how do you feel about the strike? What happened to cause this? Why is the management all missing? What happened to Room 103's window? Why are all of the fire alarms in the management part of the building ripped off of the wall? Why are the monitors showing that oxygen levels are--"

Curtis screeches back "STOP ASKING QUESTIONS OR YOU WILL ALL BE ARRESTED FOR TRESPASSING!"

President Hendrix interrupts them, saying "What is going on with the screens? They're all saying the oxygen levels are critically low!" He picks up the microphone and attempts to contact every crew member. "Hello, this is President Hendrix. Can you hear me?" He switches channels. "This is President Hendrix. Anyone there?" He tries the intercom channel, turns on a low-frequency radio device along with a QEC bridge for good measure, and says "Hello? This is President Hendrix. I need someone on this ship to respond as soon as possible!"

Silence.

He realizes Curtis and the team know too much now, and decides it's time to drop the act. "Curtis Shaw," he says in a cold tone, "Pull up the Astronaut Vitals sensors..." Curtis is taken aback by this. "Where is Curtis?" he says.

President Hendrix motions for 2 bodyguards to restrain Curtis with extreme force. "Now tell me, Curtis, how do you pull up the sensors?" Curtis just says "I don't know. There aren't sen--" President Hendrix opens a command line and types stuff. He developed the sensor program back in the Summit Federation days when all they had were command lines, and nobody saw a reason to change the program. It worked as it was.

He closes the program. Very distraught by what he sees, he says, "They're ALL dead."

He takes out his phone and dials the emergency number. Grabbing an intercom mic, turns his government-issued QEC back on, and he announces his 911 call loudly for everyone to hear: "This is President Hendrix. All units are to report to the Kovac Launch Grounds IMMEDIATELY. Former Ground Control lead Curtis Shaw is to be arrested on all deaths that occurred in the Bright Future program, including the potential deaths of the crew of the first rocket, the entire upper management team, the entire marketing team, and all 'striking' employees. He should also be charged for building damage, and forced to repair the building's otherwise pErFeCt fire system. That will be... oh... NO... The rocket has gone into light speed with the dead crew now, so we can't even get their corpses back. CURTIS YOU USELESS PIECE OF SOGGY STALE MOLD-FILLED TOAST! YOU DISGRACE TO SUMMIT AND ALL THINGS THAT ARE NAMED 'SUMMIT'! YOU DIDN'T REPLACE THE SOFTWARE, DID YOU... WHAT?! YOU LET THE SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS GO ON THE FIRST ROCKET??! THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO STAY BACK AT..." His voice gets too quiet as he carries the QEC over to Curtis and slaps him with it.

The microphone cuts for a moment. President Hendrix goes back on to calmly end the transmission by saying "...and now it is YOUR FAULT that my QEC's AutoText chip is cracked... You will need to buy me a new one! Oh, the microphone is on... uh..." before calmly saying: "That will be all."
<p><tt>-----END TRANSMISSION-----</tt><p><font family="sans sref"><a href="ucv.html">Back to UCV home page<a>.
before signing off from the intercom again.

Curtis Shaw, by the direct order of the Great President Hendrix, was stripped of all ranks and roles in any Government branch and institution. He was sent to prison with one life sentence per affected person, and an extra 947 years for his other crimes against the Summit Republic and the former Summit Federation. The Bright Future program was put on temporary suspension, later getting canceled altogether silently without any media attention.

The last thing from the Summit Federation has ended: the very thing they were started for, the Bright Future program, that was now no more. President Hendrix makes a speech before the capitol's residents and international media organizations.

"My fellow Summitians, it is with great sorrow that I announce the death of our great heroes. These people have made an immense sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice. They did what our nation called them to do. Forever, they will be a part of the stars, for they are stars. We, as a nation, and those before us, looked to the stars and planets, wanting to understand the greatness that is before us. The heroic sacrifice of those who went will forever be remembered. Whether alive to tell the tale, we remember their achievements. It is my honor to grant them all the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Presidential Medal of Honor. May they all rest in peace."

He grabs a cane and walks to the families of the Bright Future participants, handing each of them the medals. He walks back to the podium and says one last thing: "As we look out at the stars, we will forever see the lasting legacy our people have made."

As the crowd starts to cheer and cry at the same time while the Military Band played an instrumental version of the anthem in a minor key, President Hendrix gets in his car and drives away. He didn't tell anyone where he was going or that he was going. Nobody noticed he had left. After driving for almost a day, he stops by a residential neighborhood and places his Presidential pin, a metal pin with a fancy-looking symbol he found while serving in the military during an armed conflict, along with a note explaining who he is and why he's returning the pin into the mailbox of one house. Hopefully, he found the right house that he was at when he found the pin originally.

He drives further and stops at a field. All that was left was a dilapidated house and a dying ash tree. He remembers when the tree was first planted, and how he and his brother got to pick out the spot the sapling went. He takes a brick from the house, goes to the car, throws his cane in, and he weighs the car's gas pedal down, sending it flying down the otherwise empty road.

With a struggle, he walks to the tree and sits down. He looks at the house. It was the house he grew up in with his parents and multiple siblings. He sits, trying to recall the last few memories he has of his childhood apart from planting the tree. He remembers one time when he and a friend just sat at the base of the tree and talked about stuff for a few hours. His friend had passed during the Great War, but Sean knew he was able to feel his friend's presence. This is what his friend would have wanted. Sean was content with his life's work. He did all that he could, and he knew that the time was coming but it didn't matter to him anymore. Not Summit, not the car, not the space program, not the federation. None of it mattered to him anymore.

A small bird flies over with a leaf in its mouth. It lands on his knee and chirps a few times, dropping a brown oak leaf onto his lap, before it flies away into a nest in the tree. He looks up at the nest for a few seconds, before looking back out at the land he once called "home", and then he looks up at the nest, realizing the place he called home had become the place that the small group of sparrows call their home.

He leans back against the tree and smiles. This was the place he wanted to return to the most.

He was no longer President, and he was happy about it.

And as he sat underneath the ash tree, for the first time since the war, Sean Hendrix finally felt at peace.


Anton McClure / anton@antonmcclure.com