Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Thundering down the kaleidoscopic tunnel at point four light and all’s well. Got a cold vodka sliding down to join the steak and chips delivered from the catering car as I look over to where old Max is interfaced to the drive arrays. The screens show that the drives are lime green across the scales. Not even straining.

I flick the broadcast switch and pass the news: “Fems and Gens, we are now riding the fastest man-made thing in all creation.”

We’re due to arrive at Stevenson Station in an hour. It’s in free space, as the wormhole generators and deceleration matrices work better the less gravitic influences they have about them. I’m looking forward to the look on Corvanto’s face as we pull in a full hour ahead of his much vaunted express.

Max slaps me on the head and points to where an urgent message flag is lit. I’m meant to be handling the peripheral boards while he has his hearing, taste and smell slaved to the drive arrays.

I hop from my seat and hit the read pad: MATRICES DAMAGED BY UNSCHEDULED OVERSPEED ARRIVAL AND TOTAL LOSS OF MALLARD TWO AT POINT THREE-ONE LIGHT. FLYING SCOTSMAN TWO MUST ENTER MATRICES UNDER POINT ONE-FOUR LIGHT OR RISK OVERSHOOT.

Overshoot? A slight understatement for becoming technicolour mince smeared across two star systems. Corvanto had obviously only partially succeeded in his industrial espionage: he got the accelerator plans. The greedy fool had implemented them without thought for the ability to stop several thousand tonnes travelling at double the speed rating of current catch matrices. I slide into the seat next to Max and slap the auxiliary interface cap onto my head.

“Max, we’ve got a problem. Corvanto’s express just tore up the sandpit and buffers at Stevenson as it smeared. We have to come in under point one-four.”

Max nodded: “Point one-four? They’ve had to switch arrivals to the old catch matrices. Our decelerators are only designed to resonate with the new units.”

Oh yeah. Forgot that little complication.

“I’m open to suggestions, Max. You’ve been riding star-locos since they first pulled out. If anyone can stop us becoming fractal patterns on infinity’s cloak, it’s you.”

“Your confidence is touching. Really. Now go and tell the luminaries to sit down and strap in while I think.”

I had just finished when the Scotsman shuddered and creaked. A big, unhappy, metallic groan that vibrates your bones. Things this big just do not do that, especially in the midst of wormhole transit! I leap across and slam the interface back on my head.

“Max!”

“All under control. There’s going to be more noises, but don’t worry.”

“Worry? I’m about to spontaneously pass kittens.”

Max smiled. “Then we’ll have three firsts to declare on our arrival.”

“Okay, give. We’re going too fast to slow down in time using the usual drop-off. The matrices at Stevenson cannot hold us. What have you done?”

“This loco is a streamliner. Each car has drive arrays, instead of putting big grunt up front and pulling the carriages in its wake. Simply put, the rear cars are now trying to go back home instead of forward. I’m keeping the stress margins under eighty percent and adding cars to the reversal as the hulls accommodate the stressors. I calculate we’ll enter the catch matrices at point one or less. I don’t want to push the impact loading after stressing the hull in strange ways.”

“That trick could make big decelerator matrices redundant.”

“I know. I had the idea decades back, but no-one would let me test it.”

 

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