The Depth of Darkness, Part 1

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Chapter 5

River straightened, wiped the tip of the soldering iron on the wet sponge and slid the hot metal into the coil. Slowly he knuckled his lower back and considered the layout in front of him. He traced the logical paths through the gates and added up the results in his mind. His vision focused into a tunnel, he could visualise the electrons flying through the gates, being diverted by their presence into alternative realities and finding their way to different conclusions. He sped along the planes of an existence that very few humans could visualise. Suddenly he snapped back into his natural consciousness.

“Yes, I think that will work,” he announced to no one in particular. It had been more than a month since Stuart had left towards the next solar quadrant to go and do whatever it was that Stuart did for HEC.

River walked around his desk, approached his terminal and began to punch in his compiling sequence to execute his test programme against his circuitry. The data scrolled across the screen rapidly; he did not bother to read it. Even if he were so inclined, he would be hard pressed to keep up with the readouts. He’d get a report at the end of the compile. He lifted his jacket from the backrest of the chair and shrugged into it. A space walk was beckoning in a short bit. If his circuitry worked, he would travel a goodly distance from the Saucer to his brainchild. Two gigantic metal rings suspended in the frigid darkness of Saturn’s shadow, only three degrees above absolute zero, the only energy in evidence being that of the original cosmic energy, residual from the Big Bang. For his theory to work, River needed absolutely no interference. Once he knew the pristine data, he could tweak it further.

His feet echoed a quiet patter as he padded on soft-

soled slippers to the coffee maker and poured himself another mug of the black liquid. It was his last brew. The beans were out. He was not sure he would’ve made it this far without it. He knew the headaches would be back once he was out of his beans, but the headaches would not be a problem if the icon was green at the end of the compile.

River’s confidence was high.

The scrolling text had come to a halt. Dots were repeating from left to right in a slow rhythm. The compiler was calculating the final results. River took a long sip from the mug. Slowly he lowered the mug. The screen had gone blank.

Fingers slowly released. The mug descended as if there were almost no gravitational pull towards the floor. It made contact. River could only hear the rending of ceramic as the molecules forcibly tore apart and subsequent slosh of liquid meeting solid. Reality accelerated and hit him full in the forehead. His head snapped back.

“Yes!” he screamed. “Yes! Yes! Yes! Fucking yes!”

On screen, flashed a green tick mark. Not large. The coding of the compiling software was not ostentatious as in the movies, just a small tick next to rows of black text on a white background. But that green tick could not be any larger for River. All the algorithms were correctly translated into his circuitry and the theoretical data stood up to the barrage.

“Theory is only theory, until the practical proves it correct,” he recited his old lecturer.

He snatched the circuit board from the test bench and proceeded to fit it into the protective casing that he would ultimately fasten to the launch ring once he got out to there. He was rushing, he knew, but he was struggling to contain himself. Fumbling with the final screws he fastened the lid on the container, and bolted from his laboratory.

The ring was coming closer and closer towards him, each metre an agonising one. The closer he got the more he realised the sheer immensity of what it was that he was building. The entire Saucer would fit into the ring ten times over and with room to spare. It had to be large enough to accommodate all eventualities.

The secret was in the power source, but how exactly it worked River had yet to fully understand. It was related to dark matter colliding with matter. The Bloon, an enigmatic life form from Gliese, had bestowed the knowledge on him some months ago, but it had taken Edison in his incorrigible manner to remind him how to apply the knowledge.

He made contact with the ring with a jolt. Slowly he fastened himself to the structure before removing the container from his belt, clumsily undoing the clasps that had secured it to his suit. All the advances, and we still have these cumbersome space suits. That will be the next thing I focus my attention on.

Sixty tense minutes later, the circuitry was fitted and River was floating back on occasional bursts of carbon dioxide toward the waiting ship.

He entered through the small airlock and once pressure and oxygen were restored to the chamber, he was helped out of the suit by Shiori.

“Is it in place?” she quizzed him.

“Yes, Shi, if it wasn’t, you think I’d be back?” he laughed.

“No, probably not. You’d run out of oxygen before you came back as a failure.”

“Come, let’s see what happens.” He grabbed her arm and half ran toward the control room.

The control room was simply outfitted, two chairs mounted to the floor looked out through a large viewport over masses of screens, buttons and keyboards, knobs and dials. Through the viewport loomed the massive ring, still looking rough with pipes and large gaps where River would eventually have smooth coverings to protect the inner workings of his invention from stray particles and objects careening through space. To one side of the ring hovered a container ship, its arched shape missing the containers that it would normally support underneath its structure. The container ship was substantially larger than any of River’s previous test objects but he didn’t want to chance biological or valuable matter just yet. He had spent much of the HEC’s research and development budget on objects that would never be found again, or if they were discovered and retrieved they would be of little use to anyone. The container ship was fully remotely controlled, something that Shiori specialised in. It was equipped with all manner of sensors and telemetry to measure every single piece of data they could imagine. The most important measure was distance covered in time elapsed.

“It’s now or never, Shi.”

“You ready?”

“Just a moment,” exhaled River. He looked over the instrumentation one last time. He closed his eyes and reached out for the largest button on the console in front of him. “Engaging the Launch Accelerator.”

The ring shuddered once and no more.

“Nothing?” sighed Shiori, obviously disappointed. “What? Why?” shouted River, frustrated. He stood to check the instrumentation furthest away from him. “Power is normal and supply is steady. Why would it not come to life?”

“Wait! Look,” Shiori was pointing into the centre of the ring. In the heart of the ring a globe of white energy was forming, and coalescing in a rotating beauty with almost imperceptible blue and green hues.

“It’s working!” he shouted. Shiori just laughed in reply. “OK, wait until the energy has expanded all the way to the edges of the containment ring, then begin the approach of the test ship. Have you engaged all the telemetry?”

“Yes, River, of course I have,” she replied, sounding slightly wounded. River was too excited and fixated on the spectacle unfolding in front of him to take notice.

The alpha-class engines ignited on the container ship and, at a low glow, pushed the ship towards the ring.

“What’s the recorded speed?” questioned River.

“Three hundred kilometres per hour. Nearing Launch Accelerator, approach of event horizon imminent. In five, four, three, two...” Shiori was interrupted by a shudder to the control ship.

“What’s the recorded speed!” shouted River, more in exclamation than in question.

“It’s gone from the telemetry, nothing is reporting.” “How is that possible?”

“It’s not there, it’s gone.”

“Then we’ve failed again.”

“No, it’s back, no speed, it’s stationary.” “Distance?”

“Five AU.”

“How is that possible, the second Launch Accelerator is nowhere near that far away?” “Deceleration?” offered Shiori.

“Shiori, do you know what this means?” River spoke in a solemn tone.

Shiori answered equally solemnly. “Yes, River. You have succeeded in reaching twenty times the speed of light.”

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