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Rated: E · Assignment · Action/Adventure · #2260844
Oct. 30: - CONTEST ROUND: Plot Background Story
Author's Note

She laughed as she read the next entry in the journal, a recording of Blackman’s bet with a contemporary theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. A running joke in her world was that Hawking had never made a bet he wasn’t sure he would lose. Finding one noted in Blackman’s papers was a plus worth noting. She recorded it, assigned it a number for future reference, and moved on. There were reams of paper to catalog, and Blackman’s estate had waited almost two hundred years to release his documents. Though a relative lightweight, he was an associate of the greats, like Hawkings, so connections found needed to be documented for further study.

Her job as a graduate assistant was to make a searchable database out of the papers, noting shared work with the major players, as well as Blackman’s limited work. It was dry, time-consuming grunt work. None of the files were digital, and she had to read every note and jotted thought carefully. Trying to guess at what someone else would deem important.

The bet called her back, and she reread the passage, now on her tablet;

From the November 2009 Journal of Fredric Blackman;

Hawking has postulated that black holes create natural wormholes or corridors in the folds of space-time. I have, in turn, proposed that these corridors could provide a means of travel through long distances in space without encountering the problems of time dilation. Because all travel would be at sublight speeds, Einstein’s time dilation theories would be held abeyance.

Hawking has bet me that I am wrong. I don’t think either of us will live to know who won.

She read it twice more before she bolted down the hall, almost knocking over an elderly English Professor in her haste. She stopped to steady him before running across the college courtyard to her Professor’s office.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ One Hundred Or More Years Later ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was perhaps the biggest secret project since America had developed the atom bomb. But, unlike America at that time, the United Kingdom didn’t choose to share the development with any other nation.

The Fourth World War had been devastating for the world, not that the UK had any part in it. Barely recovered from the Third war, her leaders walked a tightrope of strict neutrality. Husbanding their meager resources, pushing the project forward even as the superpowers, America, China, and Russia pounded themselves once more to the brink of extinction, almost taking the world with them.

The discovery made more than a hundred years, was about to bear fruit. HMS Endeavour, some wanted to call her HSS Endeavour, but security and the fear of espionage prompted a safer bet. Endeavour was an unmanned explorer. Though she could carry a small crew, this first exploratory voyage would be computer governed. If the vessel, named for Cook’s exploratory ship, survived her first ten experimental voyages, she might one day carry a crew. She was disguised as an asteroid mining ship, one of many that all nations used. Earth’s resources were almost exhausted, and humankind was reaching into space to feed its war machines

At first, the scientists and the military personal running the test thought they had failed. A blimp in the system, and the Endeavour appeared not to have moved from its position in the asteroid belt. The ships onboard computers, though disagreed, they indicated that the ship had traveled several hundred light-years. The next test was programmed to include a thirty-second delay, well within a possible sensor glitch if anybody noticed.

The countdown finished, and for thirty seconds, HMS Endeavour disappeared from the screens of Mission Control at the Imperial College. Reappearing, this time slightly out of place and with significant damage, exactly thirty seconds later. After repairs and several more repairs, the length of time on station was shown to bear a direct relationship to the positional displacement and damage suffered by the Endeavour.

It was Winston Bilton, an engineer on the project who proposed that the black hole’s normal orbital period affected the entrance and egress of the wormhole. Further tests proved the theory and Winston wrote a program to compensate for the drift, gaining a Knighthood in the process.

After more tests, using the Drift Navigation Protocol (DNP), HMS Endeavour was ready for its most important voyage. Manned by a small crew of ten volunteers, still controlled by her onboard computer. She went back through the wormhole once more, and this time she stayed for twenty tense minutes when she returned with her crew intact, undamaged. Truly ready to live up to her name as one of Britain’s most extraordinary vessels of exploration.

Winston made yet another significant contribution to the UK’s space program. The Ion Pulse Engine, fueled by a fusion reactor, enabled much greater speeds than the standard fuel reactive rockets. Ships could now be sent to other detectable Transition Points. Bilton was awarded a Duchy for his work.

The wormhole entrance and exits were slowly mapped. The distances were still massive; voyages took weeks and months. Larger ships were built, gaining the rest of Earth’s attention. The superpowers demanded access to the technology, the UK resisted. Missiles destroyed a returning UK ship in an atomic fireball.

Retaliation was fast and devastating. Asteroids dropped from space arced gracefully across the Russian skyline. Exploding miles above the Earth, they destroyed Moscow and Leningrad. China and America rattled their sabers, but after being treated to a pebble light show they backed away. Without further destruction, the UK emerged as the dominant power on Earth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ One Hundred Or More Years Later ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Man’s greatest fear is the unknown. Each transit through a newly discovered wormhole was a gamble. What is on the other side? Is it worth going there? When is enough territory enough.

The colonies are far-flung; governance, where there is a government, is in the hands of Military or Colonial Governors. The newly risen Monarchy maintains a shaky grasp, depending on force, fear, and intimidation to control the Empire.

Vast portions of space are ungoverned frontiers, refuge to criminals, pirates, smugglers, and the dregs of society.

Add to that the unknown quantity of possible non-terrestrial life, and the puzzle grows into a nightmare.

And yet, man’s quest to explore, exploit and conquer pushes him further still into the unknowable.

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