Author : Bob Newbell
Dr. José Zhang gently rotated an 800 credit bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice. The price of champagne had skyrocketed in the last several weeks in anticipation of the completion of Project Hermes. Zhang’s colleague, Dr. Ian Bartlett, looked at the champagne with a skeptical eye. “You know there’s a good chance this isn’t going to work, José? I mean, there was no practical way to do any real field test. Nothing works right the first time, you know?”
Zhang smiled and said, “‘Your royal Highness, members of the Academy, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, it is with great honor I accept the Nobel Prize in Physics for the first successful space fold drive engine test in history. But with all due humility I must point out that without the constant naysaying and discouragement of my fellow scientist here, this project would have been completed a lot sooner.’ What do you think?”
Bartlett tried to suppress a smile and failed. He inspected the champagne. “Alright, if this works, we celebrate. If it fails, we drown our sorrows. We’re covered either way.”
Bartlett took a seat beside Zhang in the mission control room and watched the two countdowns on the screen. The first countdown indicated the time for activation of the space fold drive. The number was already T-plus seven minutes. The drive had already turned on seven minutes ago. The second countdown was at T-minus sixty seconds. The latter countdown denoted the time for telemetry to reach mission control from the ship which was eight light-minutes from Earth.
The Hermes ship’s space fold engine had two major components. One half of the engine, Hermes I, was in the ship in orbit around the Sun. The other half, Hermes II, was 26 trillion miles away in orbit around Alpha Centauri B. It had taken most of 100 years for the robotic vessel containing half the drive to traverse over four light-years using a conventional ion drive propulsion system. Once there, it sent back a laser pulse confirming it had arrived and was intact. Traveling at the speed of light, the signal took just over four years to reach Earth. A command signal was then sent back to the probe in response instructing it to activate its half of the engine at a certain date and time, specifically, today at precisely 1600 hours Coordinated Universal Time.
The plan was for both components of the space fold engine to activate at the exact same moment. If the theory was correct, as long as the vessels were at least 3.827 light-years apart, at the precise instant of simultaneous activation, a fold in the fabric of space would occur for exactly one Planck time unit, roughly 10 to the negative 43 seconds. In that infinitesimal span of time, the two vessels would swap places.
Zhang picked up the champagne bottle, removed the foil from the cork, and started untwisting the restraint wire. He wanted to pop the cork just after the space fold maneuver took place.
“Ten…nine…eight…,” the mission control crowd chanted in unison. Zhang looked at Bartlett, the latter’s brow furrowed with worry. “Pessimist,” Zhang said with a smile as he worked on the champagne bottle’s cork.
Mission control was suddenly filled with screams not of joy but of horror. The space fold had worked. The Hermes II ship was now in Earth’s solar system, as was Alpha Centauri B! The new orange-yellow sun looked like an angry cyclopean eye. Zhang’s hands started to tremble uncontrollably. The cork popped.
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows