Caveat Ereptor

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

As far as pirates went, Jack Hoorn was not the brightest star in the constellation. To be sure, what he lacked in reason and forethought, he made up for with guile and spontaneity. Even as he presented his stolen security clearance to the guards at the Telsela Research Station orbiting Proxima Centauri, he had no real plan. All he knew was there were valuable things there, and he aimed to steal a few. He moved though the corridors with an air of entitlement, pausing at all intersections hoping to overhear a conversation between some careless individuals. He hit the motherload when he spotted two laboratory technicians guiding a lev-sled toward him. One man was berating the other because he had almost toppled the one meter in diameter sphere they were transporting. Hoorn almost had an organism when he heard the man say, “Dammit Ed, that prototype cost over one billion credits”. If someone paid a billion to make something, he reasoned, they’d spend millions to get it back. He pulled out his phaser and stunned the two technicians. Then he grabbed the sled controls and started racing down the corridor with his booty. As he hefted the sphere onto his ship, the station’s intruder alarm sounded. “Too late, losers,” he boasted as he took the pilot’s seat and fired up the impulse engines.

His speedy little ship streaked away from the station, but was quickly pursued by a dozen security craft. Hoorn smiled at the large scale pursuit. It meant his prize was definitely valuable. He set a course for Sirius and punched her into warp. In mid-course he reprogrammed the ship to divert to Tau Ceti. After traveling a few more light years, he set a new course to the crab nebula. He was confident that no security ship could follow him through three jumps, and if they did, he could duck into the ionized mass ejecta of the onetime supernova and become invisible to their sensors. After returning to normal space, he piloted his ship into the Helium-rich torus cloud, and shut down everything but his passive sensors and life support. To his surprise, six ships, flying in a tight delta formation, arrived seconds later. Damn, he realized, the Varangian Rangers. He may have underestimated this foe. He shut everything down, including his stolen antique electronic watch.

“Spread out into a reverse diamond arrangement,” ordered the wing commander. “Establish a perimeter of half a billion klicks.”

“I have him on sensors, sir,” announced a seasoned sharpshooter. “Give the word, and he’s toast.”

“Negative, Lieutenant. He’s already toast. There’s no way that moron knows that he stole a star buster. That radiation cloud he thinks he’s hiding in has probably already activated the automated detonation sequence. At this very moment, the device is probably flooding his ship with fusion juice. Just set your recorders on maximum resolution. Let’s at least get the lab boys some useful data.”

Back in his ship, Hoorn was sweating profusely, so he partially unzipped his flightsuit. That’s when he noticed that the sphere was humming. He stood up to investigate, but was overcome with a wave of intense nausea. He collapsed to his knees and began to vomit. The cockpit began to spin as he crumbled to the deck. Even with his eyes closed tight, the light was blinding. The hum became a roar.

“There she goes boys. Pull back at point five cee. Keep recording. This will be quite a show.”


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The Field Test

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“A one-way ticket to Ganymede, please.”

“You can’t buy a one-way ticket to Ganymede.”

“Why not?”

“Ganymede orbits within Jupiter’s radiation belt. The law says no one can stay on Ganymede longer than six months. Therefore, you need a round-trip ticket.”

“That’s stupid. What if I only had four months to live, and just wanted to die on Ganymede.”

“Then they would use the return ticket to ship your sorry-ass body back to Earth. Now, either buy a round-trip ticket, or step aside so I can help the next person in line.”

“I want you to ask your supervisor.”

“Very well,” sighed the associate. She pressed her index finger against her temple and activated her comm link. “Sorry to bother you, sir, but I have a customer here who wants to purchase a one-way ticket to Ganymede… Yes, sir, I told him that, but he still insists. Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh. Okay. He says for a 10% adjustment fee, you can buy a refundable round-trip ticket, and if you don’t use the return half, we’ll refund its cost. Take it, or leave it.”

“Fine.” He placed the scanner over his right eye and completed the sale. Six hours later, he was in a stasis chamber for the three month trip to Ganymede.

After being revived, he collected his cargo and headed to the spaceport’s ship rental counter. He said, “I reserved a compact ship. Steven Schwarz.”

“Yes, Mr. Schwarz. We have it ready. Would you like to upgrade to a utility ship? We are offering a sale today.”

“No thank you. The compact will suit my needs.”

“Okay. When will you be returning it?”

“I want to drop it off somewhere else. How much extra is that?”

“Where do you want to drop it off?”


“Sir, these ships don’t have the range to reach Earth.”

“No worries, Miss. My doctorate project was to construct a device to generate a localized wormhole to transport me and the ship to near Earth orbit. But the initiation site needs to be close to a powerful gravity well, which is why I have to test it at Jupiter. So, if it works, I want to return the ship to an Earth-based port.”

“Well, I don’t know. Let me check with my boss. She pressed her index finger against her temple and activated her comm link. “Sorry to bother you, sir, but I have a customer here who wants to return his rental to Earth… Yes, sir, I told him that… He says he has a worm thingy… Beats me… Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh. Okay. He says if you can get the ship to Earth, he’ll wave the drop off charge. But you have to purchase the supplemental insurance.”

“Fine.” Schwarz placed the scanner over his right eye and completed the rental agreement.

An hour later, he was staring at Jupiter through the large flight deck viewport. He entered the course, velocity, and wormhole initiation sequence into the ship’s computer and calmly presses the start button. The ship lurched forward and plummeted into Jupiter’s atmosphere. At the precalculated time, the wormhole generator activated. The ship began to tumble. Schwarz held on for dear life. A minute later, the ship appeared in clear space, not too far from the sun. But the sun was red, not yellow. “Computer, perform a spectral analysis of the star in front of the ship.”

“The spectrum identifies the star as Proxima Centauri.”

“Crap. Are there any gas giants orbiting Proxima Centauri?”

“The largest body orbiting Proxima Centauri is one tenth Earth’s mass.”

“Oh dear.”


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Prometheus Station

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The Prometheus Station was an engineering marvel. Orbiting the Earth in a low altitude sun synchronous polar orbit, it did the impossible. Its six mammoth hyperspace siphons sucked more than a Zettajoule of energy directly from the sun’s core, converted it to columnar microwaves, and transmitting it to thousands of receiving stations on the Earth’s surface. This station, and its twin orbiting 180 degrees behind her, provided Earth with all the energy its ten billion inhabitants craved.

As Hellen Sappho relieved her alpha shift counterpart at the Prometheus Station’s Command and Control console, she glanced at the calendar wall clock on the inboard bulkhead. It read Sunday, March 20, 06:00. She then turned to the large viewport and watched the Earth as it rotated serenely some 500 miles below. The daylight terminator was slowly traversing the Rocky Mountains in the western half of the United States. In a few minutes, she noted, the sun would be rising over her hometown of Eagle City, Utah.

Sappho’s peaceful repose was interrupted by the ear piercing variable whine of the emergency klaxon. With catlike reflexes refined by years of intense training, she quickly assessed the nature of the impending threat. The proximity sensors had detected an incoming object, and it was on a collision course. Sappho diverted all available power to the station’s deflectors, but she could see it wouldn’t be enough. Quickly, she closed all of the decompression bulkheads, and activated the emergency distress signal. Seconds later, a fifty foot meteoroid slammed into the habitation section, ripping a gaping hole, and instantly killing dozens of her friends and colleagues. The shock wave raced through the station, testing the very limits of its structural integrity. Sparks erupted from her console, as the shock wave knocked her to the deck. Sappho tasted blood as she climbed back into her chair. She opened a comm link. “C&C to Engineering. Status? Engineering, report.” No reply, not even static. “Control to Power Conversion. Report.” Again, silence. That’s when she looked out the viewport, and realized the real terror that the asteroid had unleashed.

The targeting arrays were misaligned, and the safeties had failed to shut down the hyperspace siphons. As Sappho watched, hundreds of intense microwave beams scorched swaths of hellfire on the surface of the Earth as it rotated beneath the Station. Forests burned and oceans boiled. Millions of people were being roasted alive, and billions more would join them if Sappho couldn’t shut down the siphons. Trapped in the Control Section, she feverishly tried every protocol in the manual, and many more that were not. Nothing she did could stop the station from sucking energy from the sun’s core. As the hours passed, her frustration grew, and the Station continued to transmit death rays upon the helpless souls below.

More than half the Earth had been destroyed when she conceived a new plan that was born in desperation; unsure of the consequences, she fussed the conduits that transferred the power from the siphons to the transmitting array. Without the array to release the unimaginable power being siphoned from the sun, the Prometheus Station reached a critical point where it exploded with such intensity that it ruptured the very fabric of space-time. For a brief instant, yesterday, today, and tomorrow merged into a fog of chaos. Slowly, as the continuum repaired itself, the river of time began to flow again…

As Hellen Sappho relieved her alpha shift counterpart at the Prometheus Station’s Command and Control console, she glanced at the calendar wall clock on the inboard bulkhead. It read Sunday, March 20, 06:00.


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The Thinking Cap

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Status, Mr. Ortega?” was Captain Edgington’s terse request to his first officer.

“Not good, sir,” replied Commander Ortega. “It appears that Chief Engineer Koshiba had ordered all of his senior engineers into the engine room in his effort to prevent the warp core breach. Although they were able to shut down the reactor, the subsequent radiation burst killed everyone in the engineering section. We are adrift with only battery power, and the computer and sub-space transmitter are irreparably offline. To make matters worse, we do not have a qualified engineer with the knowledge to safely restart the warp core.”

“How about life support,” inquired the captain?

“A few days, at most. And considering the secrecy of our mission, it’s doubtful that anyone will know where to look for us, even if they knew we were in need of assistance.”

“So, if we’re going to get out of this, we’re going to have to restart the warp core without the help of the computer or a trained engineer. Who’s the most qualified warp core expert available?”

“According to my knowledge of the surviving crew members, it’s you, sir.”

“Then we’re in big trouble. I only remember enough to know that if you don’t restart the core in a precise sequence, you end up vaporized. There has to be a better option.”

“Well, sir, there is ‘The Thinking Cap’. We happen to have one onboard. We can use it to imprint the necessary knowledge into someone’s brain. Its effects only last 24 hours, but that should be adequate to reestablish full power. Unfortunately, without the computer’s guidance, we’d have to select the modules by trial and error. We’ll be creating random short term savants until we can isolate the correct protocol on warp core maintenance.”

“Frankly,” noted the captain, “I don’t see that we have any other choice. Ask for volunteers, and have them assemble in sickbay.”

Twelve hours, and twenty volunteers later, Captain Edgington removed the skullcap from Lieutenant Treffert’s head, and asked the all-important question, “What’s the sequence for restarting the warp core?” Treffert simply stared ahead and smiled. “Well, at least he’s happy,” conceded the captain.

Treffert suddenly said, “Girl Happy, staring Elvis Presley. MGM Studios, released April 9, 1965.”

Ensign Wittmann added, “April 9, 1965 was a Friday.”

Ordnance Technician Peterson followed up with, “Sergeant Joe Friday was portrayed by Jack Webb.”

The captain sighed, “Now that’s really starting to become annoying. Please step down Mr. Treffert, and take the empty seat next to Beethoven and his air piano.”

Security officer Rollins replaced Treffert on the examination table, and said with a grin. “Don’t worry sir; twenty-one is my lucky number.”

“Let’s hope so Mr. Rollins,” replied the captain as he pulled the skull cap over Rollin’s head.

“I recommend sequence number fifteen,” offered Ortega. “Protocol C, as in Charlie.”
A half hour later Captain Edgington removed the skullcap, and asked, “What’s the sequence for restarting the warp core?”

Rollins replied, “Depolarize the intake coupler, followed by purging of the containment chamber.”

“Yes,” cheered the captain. “Mr. Ortega, take Mr. Rollins to the engine room and get started before the imprint wears off. I’ll babysit the crew.”

“Crew,” said Ensign York. “Noun. The rowers and coxswain of a racing shell. Also, a group of people who work together on a project.”

Petty officer Hawkins added, “Project Blue Book documented more than 12,618 UFO sightings.”

Nurse Mioni noted, “The square root of 12,618 is 112.32987136109433.”

“On second thought, Mr. Ortega,” said Captain Edgington, “I’ll take Rollins to the engine room. You stay here.”


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Parallel Quantum Universe

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Uh oh, I think we ended up in a parallel universe,” said Senior Technical Specialist Jim Wright.

“What are you talking about,” replied Ensign Vince Saccomandi. “We teleported to exactly where we were supposed to, the lobby of the Administration Building for Extraterrestrial Affairs.”

“I don’t think so, Vince. Look at the contextual evidence.”

“The what?”

“Vince, didn’t you take Quantum Theory at the academy? Whenever you teleport, you temporarily phase out of our physical universe. It’s rare, but occasionally, when you phase back, you can end up in a parallel quantum universe. It’s generally obvious when it happens. Look at their uniforms. They have a different color waistband than ours. Whenever I teleport, I always verify that I maintained my quantum continuity. There are lots of clues. For example, there can be differences in hair styles, holovision shows, music. Most of the same people exist in both universes, but the historical details may have changed.”

Just then, Yeoman Jennifer Dawson passed by and smiled. “Hey, Vince, don’t forget, you need to pick me up at 1900.” She gave him a flirtive wave and continued on her way.

“Whoa,” remarked Saccomandi with a smile. “Jen talks to me in this universe. It even sounds like we have a date tonight. I think I like this universe better than ours. Maybe I’ll stay for a while.”

“I don’t think the Vincent Saccomandi in this quantum universe would appreciate that. Besides, we need to get back before our structural cohesion starts to decay.”

“Our what?”

“Damn. I thought Quantum Theory was a required course. Look, subatomic matter in our universe has a specific resonance frequency. Since the subatomic resonance frequency in this universe is different, it’s only a mater of time until we have a cascade disassociation. In other words, we’ll simply fade away into nonexistence.”

“Well, that sucks. How do we get back?”

“Generally, the technical communities in almost all quantum universes recognize that there is a possibility of teleportation cross-over. If we head over to the main teleportation station, they should have someone on staff who’ll know what to do.”

When the two men explained their situation to the Teleportation Engineer, he acted like this happened all the time. Using a Boltzmann Meter, he measured their subatomic resonance frequency and consulted his monitor. “Ah, this isn’t so bad,” he said. “There’s only a 0.023 percent frequency mismatch. Have either of you eaten anything since arriving?” They both indicated that they had not. “Good,” he continued, “because that would have complicated the reassimilation back into your universe. As it is, you’ll only need to purge our oxygen from your system when you get back. Otherwise, you’ll have metabolic problems when our oxygen eventually disassociates. Okay, if you’ll step up on the teleport platform, I’ll send you on your way.

Seconds later, the two men vanished and rematerialized in the lobby of the Administration Building for Extraterrestrial Affairs. “Well Vince,” noted Wright with relief, “it looks like we’re back home.”

“We’ll see,” replied Saccomandi as he spotted Yeoman Dawson. “Hey, Jen,” he yelled,” we still on for tonight?”

“When black holes shine,” was her curt reply.

“Yep,” said Saccomandi, “We’re back home.”


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