Rated: E · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2273561
A strange effect is discovered, leading officials plan a cover for their tracks.
|Bob Wrenchel looked away from the screen for a moment and caught the eye of Johnnyangel Frost, who, as his deputy, was seated at his right. “Didn’t somebody important say that everything which is not forbidden is compulsory?” |
Frost nodded. “T.H. White.” she said.
“Ah,” Wrenchel said. “Never heard of him.”
“He was a clerk for British rail that wrote novels in his spare time,” Frost said. “Arthurian stuff. The Once and Future King.”
Despite the fact that Frost was speaking sotto voce to him, Wrenchel saw that the young briefer had paused so as not to interrupt. “Go ahead, Captain,” he said, returning his attention to the presentation.
“Ah, yes, sir.” She pressed a button on the podium and the screen flashed to the next slide. It showed a bird-like creature, perched in an odd, uncomfortable-looking position on an equally odd-looking yellow-barked branch with ribbon-like leaves pointing downward from its bottom surface. The bird was something between an owl and an ostrich; a head with large, forward-staring eyes perched on a long, flexible neck. “The effect was noticed during the initial remote observations of this native creature,” she said. “The following clip shows the effect in action.”
The screen flickered and then a video started; the camera view bounced and the settled on the creature, perched in its yellow tree, its head slowly scanning back and forth. Then its head moved forward, its long neck extending, and it appeared to fall off of the branch, two pairs of thin wings opening to bat at the air as its long body cleared the branch.
And then the bird was back on the yellow branch, and once again went through the routine of falling and opening its wings.
The clip ended and the screen went back of a static shot of the creature. There was a murmur in the room, and Frost again spoke up. “You sure this isn’t somebody’s idea of a joke?”
“Ah, no, ma’am,” the captain said. “The effect appears to be a glitch in the local passage of time. Every 238 minutes, everything jumps backwards two seconds in time. Then things go forward again as normal for another 238 minutes.”
“But you’ve got an explanation, right?” Wrenchel said.
“Well, not exactly, sir.” The screen transitioned to a complicated looking diagram, yellow figures on a navy-blue field, three spheres with ellipses describing their complicated paths between and around each other. “This star rotates retrograde around the central two, and that’s the key to the magnetic-field reversal. The period of the outer star is a whole-number multiple of the period of the two inner ones around each other.” she said.
Frost tapped her finger on the table. “The inner stars go around each other and the outer star goes around the pair. How long is the cycle?”
The captain looked nervous. “Two hundred thirty-eight minutes.”
Frost leaned back in her chair. “Of course it is.”
“Dave, what can you tell us about the magnetic effects here?” Wrenchel said to one of the officers seated at the table.
“Sir, the whole thing is very unusual, and—” He stopped talking and suddenly stood up, moving to the front of the room. The captain stepped aside wordlessly and Dave Henry stepped up on the low stage and extended his arm, finger pointed, and touched a spot near where the circle representing Giesel C was. “There’s a bottleneck in the field here, and the field flows through it like sand through an hourglass. When the outer star is here, the field flows this way and when it’s here, the field flows this way. The whole thing is tuned just right to be self-sustaining, although we can’t say exactly how it is happening.”
As Dave returned to his seat, Wrenchel spoke. “And the planet orbits through this mess.”
“Yes, sir,” the briefer continued. “As you can see from the diagram, the planet’s perigee puts it—”
Frost cut her off. “How long does the reversal last?”
“Nearly two seconds,” the briefer responded. “One point nine seven three.”
“All right, that’ll be all for now. Thank you, Captain. Remain seated, everyone.” Wrenchel and Frost stood up. The two of them departed the briefing room and strolled down the long hallway toward the double keypass doors that led to the building’s front atrium and the main entrance beyond.
“It wasn’t supposed to—” Frost started, but Wrenchel held a hand up to stop her.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Wait until we get to my office.”
The two of them continued in silence until they rounded a corner and came to an ornate mahogany door, beside which stood a uniformed guard. Wrenchel pushed it open for Frost. She stepped through and he followed. In the outer office, a major stood at a table on which several large manuals were open.
“You getting it figured out, Billy?” Wrenchel asked as he stepped past.
“Not really,” the major responded.
Wrenchel and Frost continued through another door and then they were in his inner office. Wrenchel collapsed into an overstuffed chair in front of his desk and gestured for Frost to do the same in a matching chair to the side. The inner office door clicked closed.
“Okay, so, now our little trick has been discovered,” she said. “How are we going to get it undiscovered?”
“Simple. We get Billy to extend the loop out from two seconds to four days. Once that’s done, we fly the crew into the system, let them go back four days, then we pull them out. They don’t discover the effect, problem solved.”
“Is Billy going to be able to do that?”
“I don’t know,” Wrenchel said. “He better.”