The original, 5-page short story version of

"New Star"

Copyright © 1982 by Roger M. Wilcox. All rights reserved.
(writing on this story began 28-March-1982)

The original draft was written on an electric typewriter. All spellings, punctuation, capitalizations, astrophysical impossibilities, etc. are as in the original.

You have been warned.

Project Starmaker, the project to convert Jupiter into a star, was going along perfectly. Back in the twentieth century, it was discovered that the planet Jupiter was actually a "star that failed," a gas giant with almost enough mass to become a star, but not quite. If it had become a star, then the potential benefit would have been tremendous; a binary star system is quite literally twice as rich in everything as a one-star star system is.

Because of this, some time ago, an idea was put forth to try and complete what natural evolution had already begun. The project was called Project Starmaker, and it took almost a decade to complete. First, a plausible plan had to be made, then the equipment had to be built and shipped to Jupiter where it would be implanted in it beneath the "surface." The plan called for the liberal use of several forms of controlled atomics ranging from plutonium fission to hydrogen fusion. Then, each of these had to be placed in certain positions in or on Jupiter, where they would be ignited one by one in a specific order.

The day when they were to be ignited had finally come. In the house of John Allenson, it was 8:30 a.m.m Greenwich standard time. The planet was supposed to have gone off forty minutes ago, but it took light almost fifty minutes to reach the Earth from Jupiter at its current place in orbit. John was a true ham-radio "freak", and had one of the biggest ham sets in the world right on his own property. Right now, he was monitoring everything that had to do with Project Starmaker, from the Houston countdown to the long-distance messages just coming in from the shuttles which confirmed that all the Jovian inhabitants were safely off their respective moons and on their way to Earth. That was another reason why Project Starmaker took almost a decade; it was very hard to make arrangements with the governments on moons that were soon to be destroyed by the power of Jupiter's ignition.

The sky outside was black enough to let the stars cast their own shadows. Since John was living in California, 8:30 a.m. Greenwich was the same as 12:30 where he lived. But soon, after millenia of waiting and trying to achieve its goal, the human race would have a light throughout the night. Now, of course, it didn't really matter, since the streets could be lit up almost as bright as day. But just for tonight, most of the major cities had decided to turn off their street lights so that the new star would be fully appreciated.

Suddenly, among the messages of anticipation, came a weak SOS signal on one of the long-range frequencies. John immediately homed in on the particular frequency, and turned up the volume. It was just the same familiar dididit dahdahdah dididit of the morse code SOS. But after about five seconds, the high-pitched series of tones subsided, and was replaced by a voice which evidently came from the same source.

"Ah, drat! It's no use now, anyway. Anyone who hears me is probably too far away to do anything. What a way to end my life, stranded on Ganymede! How could I have missed that last outgoing shuttle?!?"

The voice paused and was replaced with what sounded like footsteps on metal. Could someone actually have been left behind on Ganymede, after all the trouble the space administration went to to evacuate everyone from the colonies?

Needless to say, John was a bit skeptical about believing the transmission. For all he knew, someone was probably planying a signal maybe, say, a few miles away on a conventional walkie-talkie. Well, if somebody was faking it, he'd be able to tell with a simple range finder. He reache over with his right arm and pushed a single button.

Inside the gigantic gray structure, thousands of microprocessers would take everything known about the signal - strength, relative spreading, and type of transmitter - and process these into a single number accurate out to two digits of precision which represented the distance to the source in kilometers. The number read 750 million.

With growing horror, John realized that this transmission was indeed coming from Jupiter. And there was no reason not to believe that the transmission was actually coming from Ganymede, since the exact moon of its source didn't really matter. Someone had indeed been stranded near the source of the star-to-be, and would probably be fried.

"I don't know why it had to happen to me." The voice was grave, almost ready to break into tears. "I don't want to die! I've loved the idea of Project Starmaker since its induction, and I'd made my plans to leave for Earth over five years ago. Damn!"

John heard the sound of distant crying, obviously by the lone person whose voice he had been hearing. The voice was that of a man, maybe no more than thirty years of age. John just wanted to shut off the receiver and block the whole thing out of his mind, but he knew that he couldn't. He would have to listen to the transmission until it reached its reluctant end.

Like every other sure-death situation seen by an observer, there is always one tiny ray of hope. For instance, maybe the myriad of calculations that had gone into Project Starmaker contained an error that wouldn't cause the planet to ignite. But that would be a stupid, conceited thing to assume for both John's sake and the sake of the man at the other end.

The voice resumed, now frantic: "It's started now - I can see the first atomic charge going off. Something seems to be happening to the surface of the planet, like it was getting all mixed up. The display doesn't look bad though - if I wasn't going to die, this spectacle would be almost beautiful."

John quickly glanced at his watch. It was 8:38, and by the next minute the light from Jupiter was supposed to reach the Earth. Yes, he thought, the ignition process has started. And seeing that the signal was travelling at the same speed as the light from Jupiter, the radio message was indeed accurate.

"There goes another one, only a lot farther apart from the first than I expected. I guess if it was too close the planet would just explode outward, or something. The shimmer effect on the night side of the planet looks something like this, only this is hundreds of times more brilliant. I'm not quite sure why, by I'm hoping this plan fails. Damn the world, my subconscious knows that I want to live! But now, for the sake of humanity, I have to die. Drat.

"If only I'd payed attention to the departure time of the shuttle, if only their body count had been accurate - if only a million other things hadn't gone wrong - then maybe, I'd be watching this the way I should, as a glorious moment for all of mankind, and not as the moment of my death.

"The internal ignition of the more powerful atomics is supposed to be going on right now, but I can't really tell by looking at the surface. And for that matter, I don't really care. DAMN IT! Why will I have to die a virgin?"

That last line struck John right where he lived. The thought of it reminded him of his own miserable life which he had not yet lived out. He lowered his head, almost empathizing on the situation of the man.

The voice spoke once more, for the last time: "Oh, no! It's going! The whole planet is turning into a red, superheated inferno! No! I'm dead now. Good ... goodbye. AAAAA -"

And then, the voice was silent, replaced by the steady hum of interstellar static. As John slowly turned his head back toward the large picture-window of the room, he could see a glowing point of red light illuminating the whole sky with what now seemed to be a ghostly, unnatural glow.

If he had not heard the last transmission, this would have been a glorious moment, but now it was a deeply sad one. A tear rolled down his cheek as the new star shone its light on the world, letting no one know that it had killed a man in its birth.

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