Saturday, August 28, 2021

Extremus: Year 7

Their only short-term solution to the growing micrometeoroid problem is to divert extra power to the teleporter field. There was, as far as they knew, no power loss at all, but it’s kind of all they have right now. The errors came out of random chance, and nothing will stop it until they find some other workaround. For now, though, things seem to be going okay. There hasn’t been a strike since the one that destroyed main engineering. In more than a year since that, the two missing decks have been entirely replaced, using the raw materials they had in storage. While it wasn’t all they had, they certainly now have a lot less than they should. They still have over two hundred years to go, and there is definitely not enough material to build the frontrunner ship that they need. They might have to cannibalize the internal structures just to get by, which the passengers are not going to be happy about. It could also endanger the compartmentalization and modularization components of their safety strategy, which is the whole reason they survived the first major strike.
As for the personnel, the engineers are doing okay. The apprentices that were working on main engines weren’t anywhere near the decks that were destroyed, and they’re really stepping up to make sure the current team members don’t have to work too hard. New recruits have been signing up to compensate, and are running through an accelerated education program. It’s looking like the original crew won’t have to extend their shift after all. Still, general consensus is that they’re all willing to stay to make sure the job is done, and not leave the ship hanging. At the moment, they’re back in another meeting, just like the one they were in when tragedy hit. Omega now believes that the original frontrunner ship design isn’t the best chance they have. He’s preparing to pitch a new plan, which should lower the amount of needed material, but probably requires more labor.
Omega clears his throat too close to the microphone. “Oops, sorry. I’m not an orator, so I’m going to get right down to the point. The frontrunner plan is out. Now we’ve moved on to the frontrunners. Instead of one large metal shield, all we need are small vessels with their own debris transport fields. Our problem is that we only have one field mounted to Extremus, and when it fails, all is lost. Sure, we have a thin backup inner field, but it’s designed to support us only at slow speeds, or when we’re docked. If the main field falls, protocol dictates that we decelerate, and effect repairs at drift. I don’t wanna do drift repairs, I want to keep going. So instead...” He engages the hologram. “I propose five frontrunners; one at the apex, and four at the base points, in the shape of a pentahedron. They will be positioned at strategic locations in front of Extremus, with minimal field overlap, like a protective cone...protecting us. We’re not planning on getting rid of the main teleporter field, but if we can minimize the number of objects that even reach it in the first place, we minimize the potential for catastrophic damage.”
An engineer raises her hand. “Yeah, how does this help us? Each frontrunner still has the same probability of transporting the object inside the protected area, rather than away. Sure, multiple fields is great, but can’t we just install more on Extremus?”
“On Extremus proper, no. It’s a design flaw, actually. For reasons I won’t get into now, because it’s all outlined in the report, retrofitting the ship with additional fields is impossible at reframe speeds. We would have to stop, and take both current fields offline for an extended period of time. Otherwise, the new ones could interfere with the old ones. I could imagine a celestial body being batted around like a ping pong ball, and the longer that object stays within range, the more opportunities it has to collide with us. That’s kind of why it wasn’t built with multiple fields in the first place. Our best chance has us creating entirely new transport fields that are not incorporated into the main systems.”
“You’ve not answered my question. How are you decreasing the chances of a strike?”
“Notice how I keep calling it a transport field, and not a teleporter field. That’s because we don’t have to transport it through space. We can jump it through time. The hologram illustrates in slowmo as he’s talking about it. “The object passes through the field, and instead of being sent an AU away, it’s sent one second into the future. By the time it shows back up, Extremus is a hundred million miles away. Frankly, I don’t know why Weaver and Team Keshida didn’t come up with this themselves.”
“Um, probably because the chances of something going wrong actually increase,” Valencia pipes up. “At relativistic speeds, time is complicated. A year outside is half a day inside. Add the reframe engines into the mix, and even though the time differential approaches zero, the complexity is only compounded. Time travel is more imprecise than you’ve probably been led to believe. You may have seen people suddenly appear in the room with you, and you think their aim was good, and since they didn’t blend into a wall, yeah, I suppose it was pretty good. But the average room is measured in meters. On the macro level, that’s totally fine. But at the quantum level, that’s a problem. Every time you try to send a meteoroid into the future, there’s about a percent of a percent chance that it’ll show up in the past.
“And this one second figure you’re going on about, you can forget that. There is no way we generate enough energy to go that far in time for every single particle we’re encountering on our way to Extremus. We’re only worried about the larger pieces, but the teleporter field doesn’t care about that. It transports everything, because it can’t distinguish those sizes. Anything that goes in, must come out. Also, don’t underestimate those smaller particles.”
“So we calibrate the time field,” Omega argues. “We only go after the bigger pieces, and let the teleporter field handle the smaller ones. It’s like installing a larger filter in front of the finer one.”
Valencia shakes her head. “I’m not saying it’s impossible, but time travel requires a lot more energy than teleportation. People with powers absorb the energy they need from the environment as time marches on, but technology hasn’t been able to do that. There is no such thing as a temporal energy generator.”
“Then help me with the math,” Omega requests. “I suppose I should have come to you about this first.”
“Probably,” Valencia agrees. She takes a moment. “Very well. Send me the full report, and I’ll get back to you in a week. I make no guarantees.”
The meeting breaks. While Valencia starts to go over the report with her team, Omega returns to his new lab, which is the one that Old Man had before he made himself disappear. Halan has given Omega a lot more leeway with his work than either of them ever thought he would. Some random guy is already in there. He’s looking through some physical papers.
“Can I help you?” Omega asks in faux politeness.
The man turns around. It’s someone that Omega doesn’t recognize, which is strange, because like Halan, Omega prides himself in knowing everyone on this ship. “No. I think I have it well in hand.”
“You are not authorized to be in this section of Extremus.”
“How can you be so sure?” the man questions.
“Because only two people are allowed down here, and you’re not one of them. I don’t even know who you are.”
The man smiles knowingly, and separates one of the papers from the stack. “This formula is wrong.” He taps a finger on it. “It’s missing a minus sign.”
“I didn’t write that,” Omega explains. Some of this stuff is from what Old Man left. A lot of it is written in code, or is just illegible, but they have to mean something. It would be irresponsible to just throw it all away when it might be useful in the future.
“I know. Old Man. He, uhh...” He pauses to laugh. “The flourishes. It’s the flourishes that get him. He has more lines in every character than he really needs, and sometimes, when he’s reading it back, he mistakes one for something else. He transcribed this from his clearboard as a seven, but it’s a negative-one. That’s important. You’ll need it.”
Omega crosses his arms impatiently. “I’ll need it for what?”
“Who are you talking to?”
Omega spins around to find Captain Yenant standing in the doorway. He turns back. The intruder is gone. “How long have you been standing there?”
“It’s important. Did you see me talking to the wall, or did you just hear me from around the corner?”
“I saw you talking. There’s no one there.”
Omega sighs. He finds a pen on the table, and draws over the negative-one to make it more clearly distinguished from a seven. Then he gathers all the papers from this particular stack, and presents them to the Captain. “Please give all this to Valencia. It may be important, it may not be. I’ve not had time to study it.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“You saw me talking to no one?”
“That’s right.”
“Then I need a brain scan. You’ll have to take me off active duty, and put her in charge of the project.”
Halan nods with a grin. “This is a surprisingly mature decision, Omega Parker. I’m proud of you.”
“This is who I’m supposed to be. This is Saxon Parker. This is what he would do.”
“Come on. I’ll escort you to the infirmary myself.”

A few days later, Valencia finds herself bursting into Halan’s office, holding the mess of loose papers in one hand. She’s a bit out of breath.
“What did we say about doors, Miss Raddle?”
Valencia sits down. “I don’t remember.”
“Please remember for next time.”
“I’ll look into it.” She drops the papers on his desk.
“Did you find something in there?”
“Umm, just the answers to everything.”
“How do you mean?”
She starts excitedly pointing out the text, graphs, and formulas, almost forgetting that Halan doesn’t know how to interpret any of it. “I know this handwriting. This was Old Man. He survived, didn’t he?”
Halan set his face into a quizzical look.
“He did, didn’t he?”
“I imagine it’s possible. It’s a big ship, and a man like that...we can’t rule out that he’s been hiding all this time, or even that he transported himself a couple years in the future, long after we concluded our sweep of the ship. Why?”
“He has it all laid out. The...frontrunners, the time traveling miners, everything. The plan is right here. It’s everything we need to make this happen.”
“Maybe he knew it would be a problem down the line. Whenever I gave him a mandate, I knew he had no fewer than three side projects he would work on when he needed to take a break from the main issue. I think that coming up with long-term solutions to seemingly insurmountable obstacles were a hobby of his.”
“I still think you should sweep the ship again.”
“We can do that,” Halan agrees. It couldn’t hurt. Actually, it could. It could undermine people’s faith in him as a leader; this question whether Old Man has been able to evade detection all this time. Or they could lie about why they’re searching every square meter of this place. What could that reason be, though? He’ll have to speak with Mercer, and finesse the situation. “So we’re good? You can do this?”
“Well, when I said everything, I didn’t mean everything everything. We still need to double check the math, and translate some of the writings into a human language. His code isn’t uncrackable, but it’s...sloppy. I think that’s the point.”
“What do you need from me?”
She’s nervous to ask. “It would be helpful if I could...maybe...recruit Omega back into this?”
“Not possible,” Halan says with a shake of the head.
“I know he’s in trouble again—”
“He’s not in trouble,” Halan contends honestly. “He’s sick.”
“Sick with what?”
“You know I can’t tell you that.”
“I just need his mind. If he’s in quarantine, I’m happy to communicate virtually, or even wear a hazmat suit.”
“You can’t have his mind, that’s...” He shut his trap.
That’s enough for Valencia to understand. “His mind is what’s sick.”
“I urge you to respect his privacy, as I would expect him to do for you.”
“It’s okay.” She stands up. “It’ll take us some time, but we’ll figure it out.” She starts to leave.
Halan lifts his tablet up, and leans back in his chair. “Take those weird dead trees with you, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Right. Thank you.”
“And chirp the door next time.”
“Of course, sir.”

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