A space operetta. Sci-fi humour
| The Needleship ‘Spear of Prometheus’ orbits Titan at just under the speed of light, making the moon of Saturn look like an excited hydrogen atom. At the helm sits Jethro Blanc, steely eyed and grim of jaw as the massive G-forces stretch ten years from his weather-beaten face.
His gaze flickers to the shiny red button by his thumb before resettling on the countdown on the main monitor.
10…9…8…Offering a silent prayer to whoever might be listening to such things Jethro prepares to push the button.
“-so you push the button to activate the Hyperion Gravity Vacuum Drive. Basically your ship will start to harvest the tiniest particles such as the photons, gravitons and tachyons that we now know to litter the ‘empty’ vacuum of deep space. These particles are then converted into fuel for the Hyperion drive.
The harvesting of the fuel also removes a great deal of friction and so we calculate the speed of 2.3xC to be eminently attainable. Here, the subspace barrier is pierced and the ship will leap to distant suns in seconds. Theoretically of course”
Jethro stops staring at the glittering rings of Saturn from the observation windows of Prometheus Landing, the colony city on Titan. He turns to the skinny, white-coated man beside him.
“Theoretically?” he asks, “You have done this before haven’t you?”
Prof. Phelps coughs nervously and nods quickly.
“We think so, yes. Unmanned of course; sent it towards Gliese, where you’re going. Some of the guys wanted to put a chimp in it, for old time’s sake, but they were overruled. Silly idea really, where the hell would we find a chimp?
Anyway it was a fully automated mission, and we think it worked. We haven’t heard from it anyway, which certainly suggests it’s travelling faster than we can track it. The math seems flawless too. I really don’t think there’ll be any problems”
“That fills me with a fresh confidence doc.”
7…6…5…a bead of perspiration slides into Blancs left eye, making him blink and shudder.
“Final systems check completed captain.” Lieutenant Boyle salutes smartly. “The cargo is chilled and engines are warmed. Permission to cryo sir?”
“Granted.” replies Blanc, murmuring to himself as his second in command departs the bridge.
“go join the rest of the happy crew in blissful ignorance while I steer this human ice-tray to another sun and defrost it on an alien planet. Sleep tight you lucky bastard.”
He guides the ship from its port in Titan and slides past the huge domes of ‘Prom City’. Home to five million people, the colony and the moon it clings to looks pathetically small next to the looming giant of Saturn. And yet it was the largest inhabitable piece of real estate in the solar system.
The last life on earth expired with an asphyxiated whimper when the atmosphere was boiled away in the apocalyptic World War 17 (18 if you count the Russian Australian conflict of 2170. Not a lot of people do though since only America joined in to help beat down the ‘Australian Menace’. It was over by Christmas.)
Shortly afterwards, the colonies on Mars succumbed to the red plague and more recently Luna 1 blew itself up in a mysterious unknown experiment.
Prom City, originally a backwater scientific base, stands alone as the last bastion of humanity.
Refugees from the recently expired Luna 1 had swelled the colony to breaking point with tens of thousands forced into year long shifts of cryogenics to help alleviate the severe housing and food shortages. For every five years awake you had to spend one frozen. It wasn’t enough.
There just wasn’t enough, of anything.
In the year 2308A.D. the Sophocratic Elect of Prometheus Landing declared their intent to send a manned mission to Gliese 581c, the nearest planet capable of supporting life at a distance of a mere 20.4 lightyears.
Peanuts to the new H.G.V. drive they’d invented.
Supplied with everything the one million sleepers would require making ready the brave new world for human civilisation; captained by the legendary Jethro Blanc, hero of the Luna 1 disaster, The Spear of Prometheus would strike swiftly into the heart of the cosmos and find a flickering ember of hope for humanity.
Or so they declared.
The riots didn’t really kick in until 2309 when the draft lotto was started to find a ‘crew’ for the Spear. Slapping a fifth of the populace in cold storage and shipping them across the galaxy tends to stir up a smidgen of social unrest.
Fortunately malnutrition and high tech crowd control prevented much damage and many of those ‘held in connection’ ended up ‘volunteering’ for the pioneering mission.
The ‘frosties’ never complained.
Now on December 31, 2310, the downtrodden masses of Prom City stare out the glass domes at the majesty of the Spear as it slides past them into orbit.
Some cry for loved ones, some cry from relief and a few cry in ecstatic hope for the future. All are looking forward to the extra rations.
They watch as the ship completes an orbit, then another. People are timing its revolutions, faster and faster as the fusion drive brings the slip to almost lightspeed.
The countdown is relayed to the crowds.
4…3…2…1…Happy New Year
Jethro Blanc plunges his thumb onto the shiny red button.
The crowd goes ‘ooooooooh’.
“So what exactly is this subspace doc?” Jethro returns to the subject.
Prof. Phelps sits down at a convenient bench and motions Jethro to do likewise.
“Kind of hard to explain to the layman you understand. I could ream off equations that would probably confuse you more than you are already. I think the best explanation is the Dirty Shirt metaphor. An idea proposed by a student of mine who’ll incidentally be joining you, Frederick Mariner.
Think of a clean white cotton shirt. The shirt is the foundation. Now spill coffee on the shirt. The coffee stain is the universe. The stain represents our perception of everything. We live in the coffee, we are the coffee. Ok?”
Jethro Blanc gave the eager little man a worried look. Phelps continued unabashed.
“The H.G.V. drive makes the ship into a needle that can pierce the shirt itself and re-emerge at any point in the coffee stain. Almost instantly.”
“Yeah…not sure I follow you Doc. How is it a needle exactly?”
“By breaking the super light barrier and dropping into frictionless space devoid of even a vacuum. The alpha and omega dimension, which isn’t really a dimension at all, but actually the utter lack of dimension.
Based on Einstein’s relativity theory, the black hole studies of Hawkins and the brilliant Omni-Particle Translation theory of Walshe, subspace is nothing with everything wrapped around it.
At 2.3xlightspeed the subject is wrenched completely free from the constraints of the physical world and deposited in subspace. In subspace the ship will cross vast distances of space unhindered by obstacles, such as gravity; and even time, coasting through the void on its initial velocity without the aid of engines."
Jethro nods and says nothing. Phelps takes a deep breath.
"After a set amount of time, which we’ve calculated to be twenty minutes and seventeen seconds you fire the retros and decelerate. The instant your speed falls below 2.3xC you’ll return to normal space in the vicinity of the Gliese system. Not more than three years away under the regular fusion drive anyway.”
Prof. Phelps sits back with a satisfied grin, polishing his glasses enthusiastically. Jethro Blanc rises, thanks the Professor for his time and leaves to seek solace in the last ever bottle of ‘Crested Ten’, aged for considerably longer than advertised.
“aaaaaaah”, the multitude watching from Prom City gasp appreciation. For a moment the ship glows purple as it breaks from orbit at an incredible speed, coruscating flames licking the ships slender lines.
Then it was a silver line of perspective carved into the black canvas of night.
Then it was gone, left only in a searing retina-burn permanently scarred into all watching.
At the helm Jethro fights vainly to stay conscious as the blood pools in the back of his head. Straining to see he can just make out the words flashing on the main screen.
“fucking scientists.” He mutters through clenched teeth.
He blacks out.
‘Happy New Year’ is still blinking merrily on the monitor when Jethro awakes. The ship is silent save for a tinny ‘Auld Lang Syne” being piped through the intercom and the soft hum of the life support and synthi-grav. Not very silent at all really, but Jethro felt eerily spooked by the absence of the comfortable throbbing of the fusion engines.
He quickly flicked the main view to external, cutting off the seasonal singing in the process.
Outside was more nothing than Blanc had ever imagined. It was staring into the infinity behind your eyelids made stranger because your eyes were open. Blanc looked away and brought up the status reports before returning his eyes to the screen.
“Well they were right.” He exclaims in relieved disbelief. “Clever bastards were on the money.
All systems running as expected. External sensors picking up nothing because there’s nothing to pick up. Engines offline.
Now just twenty minutes coasting through subspace, fire the retros and decelerate into real space somewhere near Gliese. Hopefully.”
Leaning forward Captain Blanc roots the last half bottle of Crested Ten in the world from under his seat and toasts the scientists of Prometheus.
“Heh” he laughs, “perfect snafu.”
Twenty minutes later a very worried Jethro Blanc is pacing nervously. The bridge is quite small however so he’s mostly circling his chair and glancing erratically at the screen.
On screen he can see the retros blasting from the Spears nose. Nothing is happening though, not even a mild tremor of deceleration. Five minutes of this and he collapses in his chair, flicking off the retros in disgust.
“Fucking scientists. What the hell is going on?” Blanc rubbed his greying temples and sought desperately for answers. None were forthcoming. “I need a scientist.” he moans.
“Wait, what was that guy’s name? Mariner! He knows about this shit. He’s on board.”
Jumping to the task Jethro pulls Mariners file from the computer and orders his defrosting. Then he futilely flicks the retros on and off a few more times.
“When gravity ceases to have effect, so too does the physical world for gravity is the glue that sticks us to it. You could say we’ve become unglued” Mariner chuckled dejectedly at the situation as he stared fascinated at the monitor, his clear blue eyes falling into the emptiness of it all.
“Stupid that no one realised that without anything for the retros to push against they’d be as pointless as man nipples. Still you live and learn.”
Jethro glares at the massive bearded man that he had called to help him. Frederick Mariner had figured out the problem very quickly but was somewhat slower in coming up with a solution.
While he seemed to appreciate the gravity of the situation he was taking it much lighter than Blanc was. This annoyed Blanc, who felt his gloomy mood was thoroughly apt and that Frederick Mariner BSc. was belittling the fact.
“Who learns, exactly?” snaps Blanc, “We’re floating in a realm of nothing with no hope of getting out with a million people frozen in the boot. What do we learn?”
“A valuable lesson in trust.” came Mariners monotone response.
The two men sank into sullen silence, sharing the very last quarter bottle of 'Crested Ten.'