Friday, September 20, 1985. 0530 - Houston, TX.

Lt Colonel Mark Johnson, Major Thomas March and Captain Jonathan Hayes stepped into the specially designed spacecraft. It was state-of-the-art and exclusively built for the mission on which they were about to embark. Each man performed his preflight checks and inspected his personal equipment. A few technicians were unplugging test equipment, while others were performing last minute simulations and busily typing away on their laptop computers.

The astronauts had trained intensely for three long years for this mission. They were all in exceptional physical condition however Johnson & March were rapidly approaching middle age. Both were combat experienced soldiers and had served their country with distinction during the US – Soviet War that had escalated over the Cuban Missile Crisis back in 1960. President Eisenhower had shown he still had what it took. He stood up to those Commie pricks and got right in their face too. Nixon didn't have the reputation of Eisenhower but still had the stomach to get the job done once Eisenhower's term was up. And though the conflict escalated into a major war, neither side ever launched a nuclear missile. It got damn close though. Course we had the Ruskies out numbered.

Hayes was barely out of diapers back then. Today, he was the one officer who had scarcely reached his prime; a trained weapons specialist having spent two years of his career working with the Israelis in the Syrian conflict of 1982. He was highly intelligent and graduated 3rd in his class at MIT. He was a widower who had lost his wife and high school sweetheart to cancer just six months after he'd graduated. Shortly after, he'd requested full time active duty and later applied for special duty with NASA. His wife's death had given him a slightly bitter outlook on life and the world around him. He was risk taker because without his Michelle he really didn't care if he lived or died. He hid that well. No military shrink was going screw with his career. On the outside, he was just the average guy. On the inside he was actually quite the cynic seeing the glass as half empty. Hell, his so called risk taking had save four American lives and earned him the Silver Star back in Israel.

As Hayes walked to his station he thought that it looked like something out of Star Trek. The information they'd gathered from the talking Ape, Dr Milo, along with their ship's data recordings, had been quite helpful in the USS Dreadnaught's design. The basic idea was to "ride" the turbulence like a wave while avoiding internal system crashes when the ship encountered the barrier. Dr. Milo was a smart, if not smarter, than any professor he'd had a MIT. Milo had solved about 50% of their navigational issues when he and his fellow apes made their escape to 1980. Escape, how ironic! Once it was discovered these freaks of nature had intelligence and spoke of an ape dominated society, Milo and his fellow terrorists were immediately put to death. Well, maybe not immediately. Information was the top priority…then termination. The autopsies showed that the decision to execute the animals had been smarter than they realized, as their female actually arrived pregnant.

If these beasts had been left to themselves who knows how long it would have been until …Well, it was no longer an issue. Besides they'd already proven they couldn't be trusted. There had never been a Colonel Taylor in the space program, let alone NASA. Clever though, a very common name and there were seven George Taylors who had served in the Air Force over the last 18 years. A First Lieutenant George Taylor was the closest fit to their description but he had been shot down over Minks in '63 when the United States and ROC Armies (Republic of China) invaded the USSR from the South during the final days of the war. He was killed or MIA or something. Can't really remember and it doesn't matter. The creatures were obviously lying. A little truth mixed in just to keep us all wondering.

Plus, America hadn't launched any ships to anywhere other than the moon until the Mars mission of 1978. However, one could not deny the fact that the ship they arrived in had distinct US markings. Even the technology and design were amazingly similar. In some cases exactly the same. Not to mention their space suits, the insignias, and equipment. Something didn't add up.

What were these beasts really up to? Were others here before them? Were others here, now? Despite their claims to the contrary they obviously possessed similar technology to ours. Funny, even under torture the creatures still stuck to all their lies.

The satellite probe they'd launched earlier last year had indeed proven that there was some sort of barrier deep in space, though the probe itself never returned. It appeared the apes were not completely lying. Using the ape's navigation computers and plotting a reverse course would surely take them right to the ape infested planet they'd come from. They were obviously some sort of advanced scouting party. Possibly a long term colonization project given the fact they'd sent a pregnant chimp along. Those son's a… The sound of Colonel Johnson's voice abruptly shot Hayes back into reality.

"Jonny, what's our status?" Johnson asked.

"Preflight Inspection of the Cockpit, Fuselage, and Empenage are complete. Servo air fitting and ground cooling air inlet tests are complete, as well", Hayes reported.

"Acknowledged", Johnson replied.

Hayes continued: "…All internal instruments are green, Skipper. Exterior inspection crews reporting in now Sir. …Right Wing…Nose…Left Wing all check out green."

Johnson turned to Major March, "What's the status on life-support and weapons, Tom?"

"Life support, food supplies, air and waste recycling and CIS (Combat Intelligence System) all check out. Preliminary tests of the ACM panel (Air Combat Maneuver) completed. We have a full compliment of AA (Air to Air) and AG (Air to Ground)." Tom replied. "At 0400 the weapons and equipment we'll be carrying once we hit the ground were loaded and secured."

Friday, September 20, 1985. 0800 - Houston, TX

"Dreadnaught, this is command. You are clear for launch. Initiate Stage Alpha", said the voice coming through the ships internal communications.

"Roger Command. Initiating count down. Locking in launch data." Johnson replied. "Crew please prepare for liftoff".

The massive engines roared as the automated launch sequence was entered into the ship's computer. 30 seconds later The Dreadnaught lifted off the ground and soared into the sky in a blazing blur. Inside the ship the three men felt a slight tug of turbulence as the ship's speed increased. The ship continued to rise upward and, in a flash, broke out of the Earth's atmosphere.

"Dreadnaught to US Central Command. Stage Alpha complete. Adjusting course and speed to preset coordinates." Colonel Johnson reported.

"AcknowledgedDreadnaught. Stage Alpha complete. You are authorized to initiate Stage Bravo. We are tracking you now" replied Command

For two and a half hours the ship's automated guidance steered them towards their destination. Things were routine. Check-ins with US command took place every 30 minutes, systems functioned, lights flashed, rockets & thrusters fired occasionally and gradually they approached the barrier, as it had been dubbed.

Priority alert, massive gravity well detected bearing .766 degrees Port. Unknown radiation pulse detected. Hull integrity compromised by 8.5301%. The CIS reported. Readings confirm radiation levels 3.2% higher than normal - Refractive polarization initiated -….3% …2% …1%. Radiation is now at normal levels.

The Dreadnaught hastily approached the anomalous wave. The object looked like… well nothing actually. The systems showed something was there but from main window it all looked like normal space.

"Dreadnaught to US Central Command. Stage Bravo complete." Colonel Johnson reported.

"Ack ~ssss ~ged ~ dna~ss~ht. ~sssss~" replied the garbled message

"Dreadnaught to Command your last transmission was garbled… Command, do you read? …Tom, adjust our heading .766 degrees Port and level us off. Jonny, standby to fire maneuvering thrusters three & four. I don't want to hit that thing too fast and bounce off. And try and find out what's wrong with our communications." Johnson ordered.

"Aye Skipper. Coming about to .766 degrees." Tom said

"Thrusters won't come on-line, Sir. I'm not sure what it is but that thing is putting out some kind of pulse that's messing with internal interfaces & communications. We're also being pulled towards it and the radiation levels are increasing again" Jonathan Hayes added.

"Messing with our system? In what way? We're going to need those thrusters. If we hit the outer …" That was the last thing Colonel Johnson said before the ship jerked violently. Major Thomas March's control panel sparked and began to smoke. Hayes punched away at the keyboard interface, cursing as nothing seemed to work. The CIS system began reporting malfunctions as the three men faded into a black emptiness.