The Prototype


Brian W. Antoine

January 24, 1993

It was going to be several weeks yet before the power plant housing was going to be ready, so I decided to spend the time testing the design of the main drive. The idea behind it was so simple, yet building the drive had been a royal pain in the ass. Thank God for magic, it made a great research tool. Take an idea, test it using magic, then figure out how to duplicate it using technology.

I had tried and abandoned several ideas before I had come across this one in a 30's Sci-Fi novel. The basic idea was that since you could define momentum as a wave function, if you could synthsize the wave you would produce momentum. The first couple of prototypes had torn themselves apart on the test stand. If you didn't get the wave generators in step with each other, different parts of the drive tried to accelerate at different rates and good-bye drive.

Between Penny and I, we had finally gotten the bugs out of the system. While waiting for the power plant, we had decided to test run the prototype one final time to see what kind of speed we could get from it. Since we had decided that the prototype was expendable, this would be an all out effort one way.

I flipped the switch on the holotank and tied into the telemetry feed from the prototype. "You about ready?"

"All set here. I topped off the storage cells and everything is green and stable."

"Ok, please give me a track of the trajectory in the tank." Beside me the tank split into two displays. One half was the telemetry channel from the prototype, the other was a chart of the solar system. Because the prototype was not equipped with any kind of shield, I planned on sending it straight out of the plane of the ecliptic where there should be fewer things for it to run into. If the drive performed as I expected, it might reach a good percentage of the speed of light and I didn't want it hitting something that might create a flash seen on back on Earth. Most astronomers looking for comets and such kept their search focused with the ecliptic plane.

"Looks good, begin warming up the drive" and I sat and watched the display. Part of the telemetry was a view of the prototype itself. As I watched, the image began to shimmer as the drive field began to form.

"Power up complete. The drive is ready and on hot standby."

"Release the locks."

"Locks released, its free to navigate."

"Ok, hand control over to me. I'll take it from here." I turned back to the computer screen and began entering the trajectory. "Lets start it out at 1G until we clear the local system." In the tank, the prototype rotated and began to accelerate slowly. It wasn't much to look at, but the steady 1G over time built up fast.

"Everything looks fine. The drive field is stable and no stress is showing in the frame."

"How are the storage cells?"

"Doing fine, the power draw is hardly noticeable at this speed."

"Ok, lets step it up a little." I sent a command over the hyperlink and the acceleration jumped to 10G's. In the tank, a tiny blue dot separated from the image of the moon and began its journey. "Any change?"

"The power draw increased just as expected. Still looks find."

I sat and watched the display for a while. The power level in the storage cells was now dropping slowly, but noticeably. By the time that the prototype cleared local Earth orbit, we had dropped to 97%. "Ok, we're clear. Lets see what this thing will do. Keep a close watch on the stress in the frame. If the drive field goes unstable at higher accelerations, I want to know about it now rather then when I'm riding the damn thing."

I punched up the acceleration to 50G's. The track in the tank began to move as I watched and pick up speed. "Ok, we've matched the previous runs we've made. How does it look?"

"Running fine. The drive field is just starting to deform as it has on the previous runs."

Typing a command into the computer, I the killed the acceleration. The prototype was now in free flight at just under 1% of the speed of light. "Any stress on the frame?"

"None. The field is deforming along the direction of flight, but appears to be compensating for the interaction with particle impacts."

"That should disappear when we add the shields. Keep an eye on it and I'll run it up slowly to 100G's." I entered the command and the acceleration gauge began to ramp up again. The power level stood at about 75% so we still had room to experiment.

"Drive field is deforming even more and I'm starting to pick up radiation from the particle impacts."

I killed the acceleration again and checked the telemetry. That last run had increased the velocity to almost 5% of the speed of light and dropped the power level to 47%. "How bad is the deformation?"

"The drive field is elongating behind the framework. It looks like a teardrop from the telemetry I'm getting. It has to be caused by impacts. The drive field is shaping itself to offer the least resistance along the line of flight."

"Hummm.... Make's sense in a weird kind of way. Ok, time for the last phase. We are already past the point of no return and the way the power draw is increasing we better make this one count. I'm going to program a steady increase in acceleration until the power level hits 1%. That should reserve enough to keep the telemetry alive."

"Ready when you are."

"Here goes nothing" and I entered the final set of commands that the prototype would ever respond to. In the tank the acceleration began to climb and the power level drop even as I watched.

"200G's and accelerating... 300G's... 400G's... 450G's, I'm starting to get some heating in the drive unit." In the tank display, the power level dropped to 1% and the drive cut off. "497G's, the temperature in the drive is now 250 degree's. The telemetry is showing a slight fluctuation in the drive field. It looks like the drive is overheating trying to hold the field together."

"Any stress in the frame?"

"None, it was stable right to the end."

"Hot Damn! Almost 500G's constant acceleration, and every particle was in lockstep with the drive. Damn this thing is going to be fast."

"Well you can say good-bye to the prototype. The storage cells have about 5 minutes of power left. When the drive field drops, that thing is going to vaporize and convert to so much radiation the second it hits something."

"Well its served us well. What was the final velocity?"

"Top speed was 47.381% of the speed of light. It's starting to drop now that the acceleration is off."

As I watched the tank, the power level dropped to almost zero and the drive field failed as the power level dropped too low to sustain it. A few seconds later the display vanished.

"There she goes. I got a massive radiation burst as the field dropped and then the telemetry stopped."

"Well I got the information I wanted. When I can shield the ship, this thing is going to fly like a bat out of hell."

"Well just make sure it's a well shielded bat. You'd look terrible with your atoms converted to hard radiation."

"Thanks for the encouragement. Well, shut everything down. I've got some designing to do. Its about three weeks before the power plant frame will be ready for pickup. I want to start design on the frame of the ship. Think you can stay out of trouble when I leave this time?"

"Me? Why you..." and the rest dissolved into screams of outrage.

I just chuckled and went back to work. This was going to be fun!