Brian W. Antoine
August 14, 1993
We were six hours out from Earth and under full drive. Not wanting to find out the hard way what our mass might do to planetary orbits, we had plotted a course straight out of the plane of the ecliptic. I was down in the main hold playing with the adjustments on the probe, when Bob yelled down from the flight deck.
"That's it, we've topped out."
"What did we make it to?"
After a short discussion with Penny, he yelled back "90.12 percent of the speed of light."
I buttoned the access hatch on the probe and climbed up to the flight deck. As I climbed, I could hear Bob, Penny and the onboard computer still arguing amongst themselves. They had been at it from almost the moment we had launched and it didn't sound as if they were any closer to resolving it. "Are you guys still at it? Christ, give it a rest why don't you."
Bob got in his answer first. "I'm the damned pilot, I should know what the hell we're doing out here. Will you tell that pile of carbon to let me have access to the computer logs."
"Sorry, Penny is acting under my orders," and for once she was obeying them.
"Then you tell me what the hell we're doing."
I grinned and stayed silent for a moment. "Nope, 'fraid not. You'll just have to trust me. Just keep our course nailed down to the last decimal place, and keep your fingers crossed." With that, I dropped back down into the hold and grabbed my tools again. As I descended, I could hear Bob start in with Penny again.
"What the hell is that thing in the hold anyway?"
"Sorry, I can't..."
Ok, I was getting tired of listening to this. *Bob?*
*I'll tell you this much, and then I don't want to hear another word.*
*Ok, spill it.*
*Remember your little 'flight' to the Crab Nebula?*
*Grumble, don't remind me.*
*Well, keep our speed constant and our course exact, and the next time it might be for real.* With that, I broke contact and popped the access hatch open again. From the flight deck, I could hear Bob grumble to himself.
"Shit, that's suppose to shut me up?"
I opened a private link to Penny and began to triple check the circuits that lay open before me. "Ok, has the propagation delay held constant?"
"As best I can measure, yes."
This was the first time we had gotten far enough from Earth for Penny to measure the delay in a hyperspace transmission. Until now, the distance's had been so short that everything was essentially instantaneous. Now we were getting data on just how fast travel through hyperspace might be. "Ok, lets run through this again."
"Boss, that stuff has checked out fine the last four times."
I looked at the mass of wires and components that I had wired up by hand. One week ago I had managed to duplicate the energy field that Tan generated when he pushed something through hyperspace. After years of my own experiments, he had managed to show me the way to safely pass matter through without it being converted into raw energy. In front of me was a hand wired field generator that duplicated that effect. "Just humor me ok? The last thing I need is for this thing to get vaporized because of a cold solder joint or something."
I could hear the quiet chuckle in the background as she replied. "Ok, start with circuit AA1..."
As I worked, Smaug flew down from the flight deck and landed on my shoulder. "Hello there fella, still depressed?" Earlier in the day, his mate had thrown him out of the little cave and had threatened to dismember him if he returned. When I had checked, I had spotted two small egg's nestled together in the nest. His headed swiveled to stare at me and the normal swirl of color in his eyes was still pretty subdued. I reached up and scratched the top of his head. "Don't worry, all new mothers are a pain. That's why they call them mothers."
I had been working for about a half hour when I heard the main drive shutdown. The sudden silence was almost worse then the constant roar I'd just started to get used to. "Hey, what's up?" Bob and Penny answered at almost the same time.
"I'm holding us steady on the maneuvering drive. It's enough to keep our speed constant and we were just wasting power trying to keep accelerating."
"That's fine, we would have had to shut it down anyway. Penny, have you got all the measurements you need?"
"Looks fine here. I'm ready when ever you are."
I buttoned up the hatch and gave the probe a final once over. With my fingers crossed, I ascended to the flight deck.
"What was that you said about shutting down the drive?"
"We are going to need the power plant to charge the energy cells in the probe. Unless I want to take an hour to do it, the quickest way is to just shutdown the drive and get it over with quickly. How's our course?"
"I checked and double checked it. If we are off, none of us can detect it with the instruments at our disposal."
"Good enough. Penny, get ready to charge the energy cells in the probe. Bob, when the probe is ejected, we might get some interaction from the two sets of flight fields. You and the onboard are going to watch and correct for any deviations as Penny is going to be busy with the telemetry feed." I lifted Smaug from my shoulder and set him down on the back of my chair. "And you try to stay out of the way, ok?"
Bob sat down and began to work with the onboard computer. When the link to Penny got flooded with the incoming telemetry, he was going to have to fly without her help. I sat down at the science station and began to access the probe's systems. "Ok, start the charge." The lights in the ship actually flickered as the power plant began to feed energy into the probe's systems.
"Christ, what the hell is that thing going to do with that much power?"
"Watch and find out. I'm embarrassed to say that I may have built the power plant for the Sunbeam a little undersized."
Bob was watching the energy output of the plant disappear down a seemingly bottomless hole. "That thing is taking enough juice to punch a good sized hole in the moon!"
The telemetry from the probe showed it was just about at capacity and with a final flicker the lights returned to normal. "Full!" I'd managed to duplicate the energy field that Tanindra created, but the energy demands were horrendous. I just hoped that I'd be able to bring them under control as we built something other than an engineering prototype. "Ok, get ready to launch."
In the hold below us, the hull beneath the probe dephased and became permeable. The probe, its own flight field powered up, began to sink through the floor and float along side us. There were no drive units in the entire thing. The whole probe was packed with sensors and the prototype field generator. Where it was going, any kind of drive would have been extraneous. As its flight field touched ours and it passed into free space, the ship gave a small shudder.
I heard Bob cussing. "I'm on it!"
Watching the screen in front of me I saw the power levels start to drop as the probe's flight field had to take over the job of keeping it intact at our current velocity. With a flick of a switch, I duped the status screen I was watching to Bob's console so he could watch also. "Penny, it's all yours." And over our private channel, "Keep your fingers crossed and do me proud."
Over the main speaker came her countdown, and in a perfect imitation of Majel Barret's voice I heard, "Three, Two, One... Full Power Transwarp!" Trust Penny to keep her sense of humor no matter what the situation was. On the screen, the little probe seemed to blur and stretch length ways, then it vanished.
For a moment, I thought it had vaporized itself, but the screen in front of me still registered a signal. "Jesus, where did it go?" Came the short exclamation from the pilots' chair. With a small smile to myself I answered him. "To the stars..."
I was only monitoring a small portion of the telemetry that was streaming its way back to Penny. The power drain on the probe was terrific. Even with the amount of energy it had available, it looked as if it might emerge from hyperspace before it reached the star Penny and I had picked as a target. "Penny?" All I got for an answer was a prompt from the console. The telemetry feed was so great that she couldn't answer via voice, so I started typing.
[Is it going to make it?]
[It is going to be close. I want to bring it out with enough power to run the telemetry channel as it passes through the system.]
"Bob, you can start to swing us around."
"That's our part, the rest is up to the probe and Penny. Try not so smear us all over the Oort Cloud, I don't think Karen would like it."
"You're telling me..."
As I sat watching the screen, I tried to make a rough guess as to the speed the probe was making. As I was working on the figures, the console started to beep at me.
[I'm getting enough data to see the probe's approach to the system. I can detect the mass ahead of the probe's flight path. It looks as if we are coming up on the edge of the system and the automatic systems should be about to drop it out of hyperspace.]
"Bob, watch your screen."
Everything I was watching was now history. Whatever had happened to the probe was about five minutes in the past if the numbers on the signal delay were accurate. With a power reserve of about 12 percent, the visual signal from the probe flashed into life on the screen. "Shit!" The whole view screen was taken up with the image of a rapidly approaching star. As I watched, the little probe I had sent to the stars, flew into one at almost 85 percent of the speed of light. Somehow though, I wasn't depressed. I turned to Bob, who was looking my direction so see my reaction, and smiled. "Pack your suitcase and grab your camera, we got wheels!"
With the death of the probe, Penny was able to link to the Sunbeam again. "Boss, do you know how fast that thing was moving?"
I looked over at my scribbles. "I didn't have time to finish my calculations."
"Well the first approximation I've got from the telemetry comes out at about one light-year per minute."
I let out a whoop! "Damn, and we got FAST wheels! Of course there is this little problem of stopping." I looked over at Bob and tried to frown. "It's kind of an extreme speed bump you found there."
"You set the course, next time tell me to miss by a little."
"Don't blame it all on Bob either. I think the probe was pulled into the star as it approached the system. It's course deviated slightly as it emerged from hyperspace."
"What, tell me it isn't so. I must be going mad." The reply from Bob and Penny was like an echo.
"Penny, are you defending Bob?"
"Of course not, He's got plenty of other problems besides taking the rap for the loss of the probe."
"What? Why you rotten little..."
I turned back to the console and began to review the data as Penny and Bob launched back into the running argument that I had reminded them about. Sometimes I really hate myself, I really do!