City Series:Volume1 Prologue
Prologue: The Legend Begins
It was 4:05 PM.
The ultra-high altitude control center of Berlin’s air force base was a giant stepped space located thirty meters below the base. Due to being a control center and due to being underground, it was only lit by the tiny lights of gauges and electric devices.
Hopeless words filled that darkness.
“The ascent trajectory is veering off!”
A giant electric display covered one wall and the symbol it displayed verified those words.
It was a danger signal.
This was entirely unexpected.
They had all just finished breathing a sigh of relief after successfully launching history’s first manned spacecraft.
The multistage spirit engine rocket carried Huber Talstrasse, Germany’s most famous adventurer, and the rocket had risen while leaving only scorch marks on the giant launch pad.
The footage of the rocket slicing through the night sky had excited the technicians and they had even grown intoxicated on the joy, so they did not immediately understand what the displayed symbol meant.
The next words they heard brought them to their senses.
“It’s going to soar out into space!”
The manned spacecraft named the Wilhelm 2 was only built to travel in satellite orbit. If it left the gravitational field, the pilot would die.
The technicians looked worriedly at the electric display and rushed back to their posts. A heavy atmosphere hung over them as work resumed.
Among their strained muttering, a single man remained silent. He was a short middle-aged man with a protruding gut and he wore an air force work jacket.
His bearded face looked up at the display covering an entire wall.
The danger signal had already vanished. Instead, several ballistic curves illuminated the control room with blue light. None of the long curves showed any sign of returning to the original course.
They indicated the spaceship would never again return.
“How are we supposed to explain this?”
Hearing someone mutter that, the man looked over toward a large communication device in the center of the room. It resembled a giant desk and was installed with several gauges and displays.
A young man in a lab coat held his head in front of the communication mic sticking out from the desk. He was likely the communications technician.
He would eventually have to inform the spaceship of the situation.
However, he did not have the courage to tell the pilot the truth, so he was simply holding his head.
The middle-aged man shouted at the technician’s cowardice.
Those words rang sharply through the noisy control room.
A surprised silence soon filled the room.
Ignoring all of the technicians focused on him, the man moved his short legs to reach the communicator.
The young technician took a step back to give the older man control.
That was the right decision.
In response, the older man grabbed the neck of the mic and looked up at the young man.
“Connect me to the ship.”
The young man frantically manipulated the communicator.
The needles on all of the device’s gauges moved back and forth and light filled a few of the display boards.
“Is it still not ready?”
“You can communicate once the gauge in front of the mic reaches the far right side.”
The needle was slow.
“Can’t you speed it up?”
The older man must have realized his irritated question was immature because he glanced over and gave a quiet apology.
He did not know if the younger man replied or not because he immediately turned back to the communicator.
The gauge’s needle was approaching the right side.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the technicians looking at him.
Someone spoke quietly.
“Who is he?”
Without looking up from the gauge, he shouted an answer to the somehow spiteful voice.
“I am Paul Wagner, a design officer for the air force! I’m the meister that designed the Wilhelm 2!”
After that, he inhaled as if gathering strength.
And he exhaled.
The breath took the form of a screaming shout.
“The pilot Huber Talstrasse is a close friend of mine!”
The first words over the communicator were inappropriately cheerful.
“Hey. How’re things over there?”
The voice came from Huber on the spaceship. Due to the radio link, his voice was a little scratchy.
His words reverberated from all of the speakers in the control room.
Hearing his friend’s voice so suddenly caused Paul to gasp for just an instant.
He replied with his gaze still lowered.
“How are things with you?”
The distance to space created a time lag in the communication. The response came after a two second delay.
“That you, Paul? It seems I’m wandering around outer space here. I’m doing fine, though.”
“I see. That’s good to hear.”
During that ridiculous exchange, Paul realized Huber knew everything. Normally, the man would never go out of his way to say he was fine.
…I can’t believe this.
“What is it?”
“It wasn’t a mistake in your design, so don’t worry about it.”
He hit him right where it hurt.
And before he could say anything back, Huber spoke again.
“Don’t say you’re sorry.”
“Shut up. During the launch, I heard one of the launch pad’s connection hooks scrape along the external plating. It looks like that crack split open due to the air pressure. It was the quality of your design that kept the entire ship from blowing apart.”
“But I can’t reenter the atmosphere with the plating like this. The heat of the atmospheric friction would get in the hole and fry me. I eat a whole roast turkey every year on Weihnachts, so this is probably them getting back at me.”
“What are you going to do now?”
Silence fell after that question.
“That’s a good question.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I’m really not sure what to say. …Oh! I can see the moon out the window. It’s so big.”
“Yeah, the moon. I feel like I could reach out and touch it.”
His tone was a mixture of confusion and joy and Paul knew very well that was the tone his friend got when he was excited.
Paul smiled bitterly at the odd atmosphere that stuck with his friend even in this emergency.
He then placed a hand over the mic and spoke to a nearby technician.
“Huber has a wife and kid. Call them here and hurry.”
An hour passed.
Huber’s spaceship, the Wilhelm 2, was in a dire situation. They had discovered the oxygen was leaking from the damaged part of the ship.
All of the control room’s equipment was linked to the ship’s gauges via radio. According to them, the remaining oxygen would not even last ten minutes.
Bad news had a way of continuing.
Huber’s wife and child had not been in the audience for the rocket launch. Their reserved seats had been empty.
They had called the house, but a servant had answered and said the wife had brought her child to a Weihnachts festival. She was apparently buying ingredients for a feast to celebrate her husband’s return.
She had said she would return by nightfall.
It had likely been her trust in Huber’s safety that had led his wife to not watch from the launch area.
No one said anything in response. Most likely, the wife would not learn of her husband’s death until she returned home.
There was nothing they could do. All that remained was cleanup work.
And during that hour, they had learned another fact.
The Wilhelm II had apparently been caught in lunar orbit.
It was weak, but the moon had a gravitational pull too. It naturally had a gravitational field like the earth and it could keep a satellite in orbit.
Huber’s spaceship had become a satellite of the moon which was itself a satellite of the earth.
If ironies like that continued, it was going to be quite an unpleasant Weihnachts indeed.
“Honestly, you’re no help at all.”
“Ha ha ha. Well, I am kind of far away at the moment.”
Huber’s laugh was wrapped in blatant fatigue, which surprised Paul.
“Are you okay?”
“Don’t worry about it, Paul. I don’t have much time left, right? So let me speak some.”
“Listen. I’m gonna say something profound, so make sure you write it down.”
“You always did like unfunny jokes.”
“Shut up. Now, are you listening?”
“Wait just a second.”
Paul pulled a pen from his work outfit and realized how terribly out of place the mood was.
He was about to write down his friend’s last words.
That thought suddenly welled up inside him and he spoke in an attempt to endure it.
“What is it?”
“Make it something cheerful.”
“Ha ha ha. I will. …So are you listening?”
“Okay, then. Well, there’s something an adventurer like me is supposed to do.”
“And what’s that?”
Paul frowned at that.
“Yeah, you heard me. Treasure.”
“There’s some here.”
Huber answered Paul’s question with an air of false ignorance.
“I can’t quite explain it. Maybe I should keep it as my own personal secret. But whoever comes here next will probably notice this treasure.”
Paul thought it was a joke.
…Treasure? Is he hallucinating from oxygen deprivation?
“Shut up and listen. I’m about to say something important.”
Paul grudgingly agreed and listened to Huber clear his throat. It sounded somehow painful, so the oxygen was likely growing thin.
Paul squeezed the pen in his hand as Huber’s voice filled the control room.
“Now, then. When people first began rowing out to sea, there had to have been people like me who never came back. But they all must have had the same thing in their hearts: the curiosity to see what no one has ever seen before and the ambition to go farther than anyone ever has before. Let’s just say that I too did this because I felt like there was a treasure out there.”
When Huber exhaled, it was a horribly rough sound.
Knowing what that meant, Paul squeezed the pen even harder as it raced along the paper.
He took a breath. He had not finished copying down the previous comment, but he sensed his friend about to speak again.
“Huber, wait a second.”
The other man spoke his own words without replying.
“I have something to tell all of the people clinging to the surface of the earth. I have – without a doubt – made it farther than anyone else.”
The voice coming from the speakers dropped unpleasantly. Something gave Paul a very bad feeling.
His hand suddenly stopped.
He felt an odd uneasiness. He felt like something he had been waiting for had approached all at once.
And he called out to stop it.
“Listen, Huber. Can you hear me? You still have time, so speak slowly!”
But the voice did not stop.
“That alone would’ve been enough, but I found my life’s greatest treasure from inside this mechanical box.”
Paul realized his friend was trying to adorn his own demise.
He panicked and called out.
“Hey! Don’t think of this as the end! There’s still so much you have to do! Don’t give up!”
Huber still did not reply. After a pause, his quiet voice returned.
“I think I’ll go to sleep while floating in space with this ultimate treasure and dreaming of someone someday coming here to find what I found.”
He was not actually talking about going to sleep.
He was talking about his final rest.
“Huber! Hey! Listen! Quit trying to make yourself look good!”
“I’ll pray for my family’s happiness from up here higher than heaven. And…”
His next words would be his last.
“Hey! Huber! We’ll go save you! Just wait there! So…so don’t end this!”
A small breath that resembled a laugh came from the speakers, but the breath transformed into words.
“Thanks, all of you.”
Paul heard a dull sound in his hand. The pen had broken and black ink wet his thick fingers.
He used that hand to grab the mic.
“Huber! I will go get you from there! I swear it! I won’t let my ship become a coffin! Just wait! …Just wait there!”
The other man did not reply. Only silence escaped the speakers and they all knew what that silence meant.
“Dammit! Dammit! Goddammit!”
Afterwards, a single man cried as so many people listened.
Forty minutes later, the spaceship’s carbon dioxide reached its maximum density and began to reduce. Two hours later, both the carbon dioxide and oxygen reached zero. In other words, it was a vacuum.
Another five hours later, the Wilhelm 2 reached lunar orbit as predicted and it began a semi-permanent orbit there.
After the accident was made public, astronomers began referring to the Wilhelm 2 orbiting the moon as Huber’s Treasure Island.
There were a number of theories as to where that name came from, but the most likely one said it was a reference to Huber’s final words about a treasure.
At the time, what had people thought when they looked through their telescopes and saw that artificial satellite orbiting the moon?
From then, many different nations gave up on reaching space. Germany had lost a war and yet possessed the world’s most advanced ultra-high altitude technology, including rocket propulsion engineering.
Nevertheless, they had failed.
For that reason, the world realized they were too inexperienced and so gave up on space.
That was the exact opposite of what Huber had hoped for.
And from there, the story shifts fifteen years into the future.
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