The Orthogonal Galaxy

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Chapter 21

With hands clasped behind his back, Carlton Zimmer stood erect admiring the picture on the wall in the black elliptical room. The Von Karman Bicentennial Museum at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena was the most impressive public display ever created by NASA. The brainchild of a billionaire space explorer, the intent was to depict the purpose of continued space exploration as it relates to discoveries that help the human race understand the universe we live in. Fronting a hundred million dollars to the effort, the museum quickly became one of the most popular attractions in Southern California.

While the main room of the museum appeared to be perfectly circular, it was proportionally accurate to the elliptical orbit of the Earth. It was nearly 320 feet long by 310 feet wide. The perimeter of the room contained some digital and interactive displays containing images taken by the moon-orbiting Kepler3 telescope. Exhibits scattered around the room were situated as to replicate the locations of the orbits of Venus and Mercury, with a bright globe light suspended from the ceiling to represent the Sun. The black ceiling featured recessed projection LED lighting which gave an appearance of a night sky, accurately depicting the sky as it would appear over the JPL campus at midnight on the Summer Solstice. Light intensity varied to indicate stars with more or less apparent magnitude. Every attempt at authenticity was made, including colors of red, yellow, pink, and blue indicating differences in surface temperature and Doppler shifting.

At this moment, Zimmer was admiring the imagery of the Hourglass Nebula. Unlike most museum visitors, however, who simply admire the conical orange circles of emitting gas and the superheated blue center resembling the piercing Eye of Providence for its visual impact, Zimmer’s fascination was one of nostalgia. He reminisced over the intense focus and studies that led to important discoveries about the nature of stellar winds and solar radiation which improved the safety of inner Solar System exploration.

The work on the Hourglass prevented catastrophes similar to the doomed Mercury-S55 mission, where critical navigational equipment was significantly impaired by radical deviations in solar radiation. The inability of NASA and the government to agree on the logistics, mechanics, and cost of a rescue mission to save the astronauts resulted in a black eye for NASA and a landslide loss for the President of the United States. Instead, the astronauts survived on rations for months while the spaceship trajectory was pulled into an orbit around the Sun. The orbiting tomb was a symbol of failure for nearly two decades before the orbit degraded sufficiently to eventually melt and disintegrate the vehicle entirely.

Zimmer turned away from the outer wall to look at some of the exhibits on the floor. Appropriately, on the outer-most floor display, which represented the orbit of Venus, his eye rested on a wrap-around folding panel of Earth’s nearest sister planet. He remembered, as an adolescent, watching the televised broadcasts of the first Venus landing by an astronaut. Many robotic missions had already occurred on Venus, but no astronaut had ever been. Public sentiment was mixed on the excursion, considering that much had already been discovered about Venus through the robotic and satellite missions to the planet, but further, many worried about the violent heat and pressure of the Venetian atmosphere. Could the astronauts’ spacesuits be designed to protect against the massive atmospheric pressure of Venus? Materials scientists were confident that the astronauts would be able to move about and be safely protected even under the extreme pressures of the dense atmosphere of Venus. Nevertheless, for many, it seemed too risky to send humans to such a hostile environment for so little benefit. But they were wrong.

An inadvertent discovery had been made by physicians who studied the astronauts upon return to the Earth. Physicals showed that heart and brain activity were healthier and stronger in each astronaut compared to their respective measured activity just prior to departure. Through subsequent study, the cause had been shown to be the air that they were breathing. Scrubbers on the Venetian surface module and the astronauts’ space suits were designed to convert the carbon dioxide into oxygen, but the atmosphere of Venus also contained trace quantities of materials which did not exist in Earth’s atmosphere. A particular combination of such materials was shown to produce the desired effect. A medical treatment was devised from the discovery which aided in a host of common maladies as well as severe conditions.

While Zimmer didn’t have many opportunities to come down to the museum, he always made a concerted effort to visit any time he came to JPL for business. With each rejuvenating visit, he felt like a child nearly a tenth of his age as he recollected the various scenes. To him, the Von Karman museum was like a hundred million dollar scrapbook of memories that he would never have been able to afford on his own, of course.

While lost in his nostalgia, he was returned promptly to Earth by a gentle touch on his right shoulder.

“Ballard,” he said. “It looks like you found me!”

“I thought I might find you here,” smiled the CalTech astronomy dean knowingly. “Like me, I know that it’s hard not to stop at the museum when you’re in the vicinity. You remember my son?”

Zimmer’s gaze was turned in the direction indicated by Dean Scoville’s outstretched hand.

“Ah, yes,” nodded Zimmer as he reached out and grabbed the firm hand of Maril Scoville. “How long has it been? Three? Four years?”

“Actually, Doctor Zimmer, I think it’s been about six years?”

“Six? Really?” Zimmer shook his head and focused on one of the stars in the ceiling, reaching for the memories that would help him set a correct timeline. “Gosh, time does fly. How is your family—six years must put your oldest child at about twelve now?”

“Jenny is thirteen actually, and she is quite the teenager.”

“Thirteen. You know, I just can’t picture it… she was just a wee little thing the last time I saw her—I think that was at your father’s house.”

“Well, the time has certainly flown by for my wife and me as well.”

“Ballard told me about your wife’s award a few months ago. What an amazing honor. You must congratulate her for me.”

“Thank you, Professor. I’ll be sure to extend your greetings to her.”

Ballard broke up the pleasantries. “If you two are sufficiently caught up, I think we only have about 45 minutes before the meeting. I thought it would be good, Carlton, for you to give Maril a heads up on your thoughts, so we can be better prepared for the meeting.”

“Yes, and thank you, Maril, for taking some extra time out of your schedule today. We have a topic of discussion that I think you’ll find rather fascinating.”

“Why don’t we head over to my office where we can be more comfortable? It’s just in the adjacent building.”

With that, the three retired from the blazing stars and nighttime setting of the museum for the more glaring light of a misty morning fog that had settled over the area. Zimmer squinted as he adjusted from the thousands of imitation stars that were suddenly replaced by a gray circle of light hovering over the haze.

“Kelcey, please hold all of my calls,” Maril requested as he walked briskly by his secretary’s desk.

Recognizing his urgency, Kelcey simply nodded and smiled as the group of scientists convened their closed-door session in the program manager’s office.

The three visited the coat rack first where damp overcoats were hung to dry before being seated around a small conference table.

Zimmer wasted no time. “Tell me how the Star Shield project is going, Maril.”

“We think it’s going very well, Doctor Zimmer. We’re actually fabricating a prototype of the shield right now for a test flight that should occur in August of next year. We’ll put it through the wind tunnel and bombard it with all sorts of nasty space debris at high-speed, hope that it doesn’t even come close to scratching the surface, and then mount it to the prototype vehicle for its flight towards the Sun.”

Something in Maril’s delivery betrayed him. “And, so you think it will be able to handle particle impact near to Warp speed?”

“Oh, yes, yes we do.”

Realizing that any doubts or concerns were not being volunteered by the young scientist, Zimmer grew more pointed in his interrogation. “So, what is your top concern about the project?”

Not feeling a desire to be frank, Maril said unconvincingly, “Well, to be frank, I’m just not sure about the viability of the project?”

“Oh?” said Zimmer prompting for more information, while the older Scoville sat back and watched the volley of questions and answers fly back and forth over the desk.

“I don’t get the impression that the Star Drive team is making good progress on their propulsion experiments. I think they’ve made way too many trips to the drawing board to give me any warm and fuzzies about their current status. So, what good is the effort of my team, if we don’t have the rockets to propel the vehicle to high speed?”

“Well, in that case, I guess you’d be over-designed, but at least you’ll know that the shield will function perfectly at speeds lower than specified.”

“But, what’s the point?” opened up Maril. “I mean, we put our blood, sweat, and tears into this project for years, and to what end? For a slow craft? Or worse yet… to get the plug pulled? The scenarios are bitterly frustrating.”

Zimmer leaned back. “Well, I’m here to offer you an exciting possibility that would end that frustration once and for all, Mr. Scoville.”

Maril sat erect in his chair with intense curiosity. “Go ahead… you’ve certainly got my attention with that opening.”

“Well, all this time, you’ve been preparing to mount your shield to the front of the Star Transport vehicle, right?”

“Yes,” the response from the scientist was measured. “Although, I guess it would be more correct to say that it will be molded to the body of the vehicle. It’s pretty much like a very thick skin that we will be growing from the shell of the spacecraft.”

“Well, I propose that we put it on backwards!”

Carlton Zimmer stood from his chair and approached the front of the room. He chose to be at the end of the table, where he could better see all of the attendees, and look each and every one in the eye. While the astrophysicist was quickly regaining status and popularity for his recent discoveries of the superluminal comet and the parallel Earth, he knew that perhaps this hour would prove whether he still had more to give to humanity—one more peak in a career of Himalayan proportions.

He paused as he calculated each participant quickly in a clockwise manner. To his left sat Vurim Gilroy, the Mars Mission manager, effectively looking for a new job, since any subsequent Martian efforts had been put on hold at NASA. Then he saw Marrak Henley, the tight-fisted director of NASA. He knew Henley would be his toughest sale, which is why he had pulled some influence and invited a pair of Southern California congressmen to the meeting, just in case Henley needed reminding who his boss was. His eyes met the friendliest bodies in the group—namely, Ballard and Maril Scoville, whose support he knew would be invaluable. This high-powered group of eight was rounded out by directory of JPL, Rawson Cornell, who sat next to Maril, irritated with the fact that he was called to this secret meeting, knowing nothing about its intent, while suspecting that his subordinate had been better briefed than himself.

“Gentlemen,” began Zimmer serenely with his hands clasped in front of him. “First, let me thank each of you for your attendance here today. I am well aware that you know nothing of which I would like to address you but am grateful that you have honored me with your attendance anyway.

“It is a particular honor, considering that my views and opinions have not been held in the highest regard lately. For years, I received ridicule for chasing after a parallel Earth—the proverbial needle in the haystack. I was severely reprimanded for heretically proposing that our yellow beam was a superluminal comet. Often, my views and projects have been simply too radical to accept. I have been called by peers and press ‘crazy’, ‘warped’, ‘irrelevant.’

“Fortunately, for me,” Zimmer said wiping his brow in a sign of relief, “some of the criticism has been appeased. For my fortunate discoveries of late, I have been restored to some degree of respect among my colleagues, but don’t expect that to stop me from doing something foolish again.” A few soft chuckles were heard in response to Zimmer’s colorful delivery of the word ‘foolish’.

“In fact, if any of you leave here today thinking I’ve been restored to my senses, then you clearly must be sleeping, because what I will suggest to you today will certainly be the most radical idea that I have ever proposed. I am not entirely convinced myself that it will work, but that is why I have assembled you here today, to help me assess the feasibility of such a notion or to follow up with studies of the matter in greater detail at a later date.

“Gentlemen, I propose to send astronauts to the planet designated as ZB-5344-P1…”

In disbelief, some eyes widened. Some rolled. Others widened and rolled. The first realization of Zimmer’s proposal was met with a sense of absurdity.

“…Earth 2.”

With the common name used, the remaining eyes narrowed skeptically.

“This is preposterous, Professor,” stated Henley, who was the first to feel defensive against Zimmer for his resistance to funding the Yellow Beam mission, and then for cutting critical requirements off of Zimmer’s wish list. “ZB-5344 is 26000 light years away from here. Do you intend to endow our astronauts with immortality to be able to live for the hundreds of thousands of years that will be required to travel there?”

Zimmer looked the NASA director squarely and earnestly in the eye. “Dr. Henley, it will not take that long.” Then looking up at the group at large, he continued. “Remember, gentlemen, we live in a new age now. A couple of months ago, Dr. Henley’s statement would have been absolutely correct. It would have impossible to travel to the ZB-5344 star system. But that was before the discovery of a superluminal object traveling around our galaxy. But now, we have no limits on the distances we can reasonably travel.”

“But, Professor,” rebutted Cornell. “Just because we have seen something travel faster than the speed of light, doesn’t mean that we can ourselves. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we will ever have the technology to do so.”

“Dr. Cornell,” responded Zimmer cordially. “This discovery should enlighten us to explore the possibility. The possibility for exploration becomes limitless with that discovery. We need to break through the glass ceiling that has been placed over humankind for its entire existence—superluminal travel is possible, and I suggest we get right to it.”

“Professor?” called out one of the congressmen. “The funding for such research—I just don’t see where we’d come up with the money needed to fund that research, especially if we really have no idea how long it will take to create propulsion faster than the speed of light.”

“I agree that funding will be huge, but championing this cause will bring massive opportunity to Southern California. Besides, if I am hearing correctly from your constituents, they want to do everything in their power to find out what Earth2 has in store. Everybody is curious about whether there is life there, and whether that life is like us or—”

“—or more hostile,” blurted out Gilroy. “Professor, in the few moments that I’ve had to consider your proposal, so many insurmountable questions come to mind. How do we get there? How can we build a machine robust enough to handle traveling that fast? Mr. Scoville, you know better than anyone the risks associated with space debris at near Warp speed! Are you willing to put the lives at astronauts at risk with debris hitting the Star Transport at rates much greater than the speed of light? How do we know that human flesh won’t obliterate as it approaches Warp speed? And then, perhaps we actually get there, but then are captured and executed by a hostile species. How do you find astronauts that would be willing to do this? You realize that this won’t happen in your lifetime, Professor, don’t you?”

“Why not?” said Zimmer skeptically.

“Ever the optimist, you are Professor, but this time, I think you’re over your head, and you won’t even see it happen. I’m sorry, but this really is a waste of our time, Carlton.”

“Professor,” asked the other congressman with much interest. “How do you propose we go about such an effort of developing the technology to accomplish this?”

“First of all, I think you’re all looking at it wrong,” answered Zimmer. “What I’ve been considering is a much lower-tech approach then developing warp-drive capability.”

With derision, Cornell fired back. “A low-tech solution to one of the most profound controversies of our day. What are you going to do? Chase the comet and hitch a ride?”

Zimmer smiled and pointed at the JPL director. “Yes! That’s exactly what I suggest we do.”

Frustrated at this answer, the JPL director turned his attention elsewhere. “Maril, do you have any idea where Zimmer is going with this? Does this make any sense to you?”

It was Maril Scoville’s turn to stand and back up his father’s associate. Zimmer deferred his position at the head of the table happily and moved back to the corner of the room to watch Maril Scoville’s attempt to appease the crowd.

Addressing his boss first, he began. “Dr. Cornell, Professor Zimmer came to me just before this meeting with his suggestion, and while I agree with him that there are many questions that need to be answered, I actually like his idea quite a bit, and I think, Gentlemen that the public will be very interested in supporting all of us in our decision to move forward with the proposal. It won’t cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and it might just work.”

“We’ve been working on the Star Shield for nearly three years now—from concept to prototype. We believe that we are building something practically impervious to high-speed stellar debris.”

Henley was first in probing this claim. “Mr. Scoville, as I understand it, your requirements are for avoidance of large objects and tolerance of small objects on the order of 1c. Is that right?”

“That is correct, Dr. Henley. In open space, we are immune to space debris up to the speed of light.”

Henley’s voice increased in volume and speed, indicating his intolerance of this discussion. “But, we’re talking about 25000c. I don’t see how you can be comfortable putting the lives of astronauts at such dire risk when you aren’t building the shield to anything near to the type of condition to which you plan on subjecting it.”

“Sir, with all due respect, we aren’t putting anybody’s life at risk yet. We are only asking for the ability to review all of the details of such a mission to determine its feasibility. Further, I expressed this same doubt to Dr. Zimmer just before this meeting, and he pointed out that we will not be traveling at 25000c in open space. We will do it in the confines of a comet’s tail. That comet will make a way through the vacuum of space and will eject all debris that stands in its way. In that case, we need not worry about debris coming head on, but rather we must focus the study on the ability to receive bombardment from behind.”

“I fail to see the difference.”

“The difference is that we will accelerate gradually yet rapidly as we enter the beam, ensuring that particles propel the Star Transport to greater velocities while not impacting the shield at speeds greater than 1c. Professor Zimmer has calculated from data retrieved during the study mission that while the center of the beam is traveling at 25000c, there is an inversely proportional and linear relationship between the velocity of particles in the beam and its distance from the center. As long as the Star Transport penetrates the beam gradually, it will be able to accelerate under the propulsion of the matter, but it will not be subject to damage by it. It will be a perfectly controlled environment that will balance the velocity of the vehicle with its ability to penetrate the beam even farther, and thereby gain even more velocity.”

“Dr. Cornell, I appeal to your judgment,” wavered Henley only slightly. “Tell me that this isn’t the most ludicrous proposal. Tell me that this isn’t set for certain failure. Tell me that it won’t be a suicide mission.”

“I can’t tell you any of those things, sir,” Cornell said in response. “We will need to study everything in greater detail. Nobody’s life is at risk if we’re simply studying the possibilities.”

“But we are risking our taxpaying dollars.”

Zimmer stepped forward. “Dr. Henley, Dr. Cornell, and Congressmen, let me assure you that this is something that taxpayers want to see done with their money. It is rather anti-climatic to find a parallel Earth and then not be able to study it. Curiosity has got the better of your constituents, and I think your leadership in this area would only secure your job security.”

Zimmer saw that the congressmen were weighing the statement and considering the fine line they were walking between pleasing constituents and funding programs with taxpaying dollars.

Henley did not look happy. “Look, gentlemen, even if we do fund this program, Congress has already allotted NASA a certain budget for this year. We will have to cancel other programs. It’s not for these representatives to decide.”

One congressman spoke qualified this last statement. “At least not this year, but we certainly could appeal for a larger budget for your organization starting next year, if we believe the citizens of our districts would find it valuable to do so.”

With his gaze fixed on the ground in front of him, Henley paused thoughtfully for a several quiet and tense moments. Eventually, his demeanor softened. “Ok, if you think we can fund the research above our current budgetary plans, then I guess we could produce the team to do the feasibility research at least.”

Zimmer smiled almost imperceptibly. The meeting had served its purpose, and he was certain that research and planning for a mission to ZB-5344 was on its way.

Before Zimmer had a chance to realize it, autumn turned into winter and winter into spring. It wasn’t difficult for seasonal changes to escape the recognition of Southern Californians, since these changes only delivered slight variations in precipitation and temperature. But for Zimmer, this year was particular busy. Between his class instruction and increased research activities, Zimmer’s year at CalTech flew by.

As soon as ZB-5344-P1 had been discovered, Zimmer put his Parallel Earth team to work studying the entire ZB-5344 system. Even Zimmer was stunned to find even more similarities between the Solar System and the ZB-5344 star system. Four other planets had been discovered that approximated Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Venus in their appearance, size, and orbits. The only thing the team had found vastly different was the orbital plane of the ZB-5344 system. It was oriented exactly 90 degrees different to the plane of our own Solar System, leading Joram Anders to joke with the professor that Zimmer still had work to do, considering that “you didn’t exactly find a parallel Earth yet” and that it was “too bad he hadn’t been looking for an orthogonal Earth all of these years.”

The team also spent a vast amount of time probing the P1 planet itself. Searches for signs of life—including detection of artificial light or electromagnetic radiation—proved frustrating, but Zimmer was not taken aback by this. Any studies of Earth2 dating 27000 years ago would also prove useless. Geologically speaking, 27000 years isn’t much time, but if Earth2 was on the verge of civilization, then 27000 years would prove plenty of time for significant intellectual advances.

As for Joram, Kath, and Reyd, they continued studying the aftermath of the comet. They continued to scour the data from the original Yellow Beam mission and were also focusing on improved sets of data from a more controlled second mission, where the USL had been relaying data for several weeks as improved paddles were navigating the comet’s tail with much greater control and were mapping out its cross-section. The only problem with the second mission is that a significant amount of time had elapsed, such that the quantity and velocity of particles remaining this far behind in the tail were now reduced significantly.

The team had ceased going to Palomar altogether these days, and were studying and measuring data in their lab on campus. They had made a couple of weekend trips to Ames Research Center in Northern California. Ames was tasked with studying the soil and debris samples returned from the rescue mission to Mars, so the team had a chance to meet scientists and engineers on the team and were able to get a first-hand glimpse of some of the artifacts and the discoveries which were being made.

Along with NASA’s efforts, Zimmer and his research team were making great progress in understanding the matter left behind from the comet. Hordes of scientists around the world were jumping on the superluminal band wagon as well, which was aiding the understanding of travel greater than the speed of light, but nobody had yet stumbled onto any solid theories about the exact mechanisms required to escape the electromagnetic force, and thereby be enabled to travel faster than light. This was a complicated problem, and physicists knew that answers would take a long time to fully be understood. Some were certain that we would need one more fly-by of the comet before we could really understand superluminal travel. Outspoken opponents went so far as to be a significant hindrance in Zimmer’s efforts in getting a mission off to Earth2 during the next fly-by of the comet.

Late one evening, Zimmer sat in his office reviewing media coverage of Congressional debates regarding the mission. Irritated with the press’ coverage of the matter, he closed the lid on his laptop.

Shaking his head, he muttered under his breath, “Why does politics always have to get in the way of science?”

He stood up and walked over to the window of his office. He looked over the quiet campus. Sidewalks were illuminated in bright blue light, shadowed occasionally by the overhanging tree standing motionless in the still of the night. Near the circle of ground lights illuminating the planetarium bearing his name, he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Easily recognizable in contrast to the perfect stillness of the night, he saw the backs of a pair of students walking together along one of the walkways. Their path curved towards a building, and as the students approached, he smiled as he saw the distinct profiles of Joram and Kath. Joram held the door of the building open for Kath, who smiled and nodded as she crossed the threshold. Joram stepped in behind her and allowed the door to swing shut.

Zimmer looked at his watch. 9:43 PM. “Those two seem to always be in that lab these days, and with the evening growing late, they return for more.” He would have to stop by on his way to the parking lot now—just to make sure that everything was going well with their research, and to ascertain whether they had any questions for him.

Just as he grabbed his coat off of his office chair and headed for the door, his ear implant rang softly. He wasn’t used to getting any phone calls this late, but he tapped his ear to answer the call anyway.

“Carlton Zimmer speaking,” he said while beginning to put his coat on in hopes of being able to dismiss the caller quickly.

“Carl,” sounded an exuberant voice on the other end of the call. “How are you doing?”

“Little brother?” Zimmer was pleased to hear the pleasant voice.

“Little brother, indeed!” exclaimed Warron Zimmer. “Little enough to be in your shadow, as always… I keep hearing about you from the media these days.”

Shrugging off the praise, Carlton spoke warmly, “It’s been a while, Warron. I’m glad to hear from you.”

“Well, I do apologize that it’s so late… I’ve been busy reviewing a new case, and time ran away from me. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to wish my big brother a happy birthday.”

“Ah, yes. I should’ve known,” Zimmer nodded and smiled while taking his coat off and reclining in his office chair with his hands clasped behind his head. “You never miss calling me on my birthday… even though I almost always find an excuse to miss yours.”

“Excuse… is that what you call unraveling the mysteries of the universe these days, Bro? How is the sleuthing going anyway?”

“Well, it’s been an exciting year, to be sure.”

“No kidding! You found your parallel Earth, and you’ve discovered something moving faster than the speed of light! And now, I hear you’re working with NASA on a mission to the other Earth?”

The older Zimmer sighed audibly and paused, weighing his response to this question.

Warron probed, “At least I thought I heard about a mission.”

“Oh, yes… you heard,” the astronomer confirmed. “It’s just not going very well at the moment.”

“You talking about those critics? It’s nonsense. The American people are behind you on this. We all want to know about this place and you know how impatient we are when we want something. Nobody is going to stand for waiting an extra five years, when we have the time to prepare now.”

“I only wish those guys were our biggest problem right now, but we have an even bigger problem at the moment—something that I did not foresee, and which may scrap the entire effort altogether.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing you won’t be able to solve,” Warron encouraged. “You’ve solved all sorts of tough scientific challenges in your life.”

“No, this time it’s out of my hands. I was in a meeting with NASA earlier this week. Turns out we can’t find any astronauts who are willing to take the job. None… not one. And for this mission to succeed, we need two.”

“You gotta be kidding? This must be the most exciting mission in the history of space exploration. Talk about making a name for yourself. I mean, we still read about that Ned Armstrong guy who was the first to land on the Moon. Imagine how famous the guy will be who first lands on Earth2?”

Zimmer corrected quickly, “Neil!”

“What?” asked Warron in a state of confused misunderstanding. “Can’t I just sit?”

“No,” Zimmer rolled his eyes. “I didn’t mean for you to kneel. I was referring to Neil Armstrong, who was the first man to walk on the Moon.”

In his career as well as in personal conversations, the successful defense attorney was not one to be allowed to get off onto irrelevant tangents. “Oh yeah, right… but you get the idea, Carl. The thrill of the adventure. Going somewhere nobody has ever been before. The fame. Maybe you should increase the salary?”

“It’s already at twenty-five million, Warron,” the professor answered flatly, and then heard a startled whisper on the other end.

“So, what’s the problem, Carl? I just can’t believe you’re not getting any bites.”

“It’s actually very easy to understand. You travel through space at over 25000 times the speed of light for more than a year, hoping that the speed of light won’t adversely affect you physically. Then, you stay on a foreign planet for six and a half years waiting to hitch a ride on the next lap of the comet. What if they get there and find that humans aren’t exactly friendly to them? What if they land in a Jurassic era of dinosaurs excited to feed off of an exotic meal? And if you’ve actually managed to survive Earth2 this long, then you have to hope that NASA didn’t botch one of the coordinates or round off any of their math to the wrong decimal place while trying to rendezvous with a massive object that it hurtling towards you at a pace that is faster than anything you could conceive. What if you get flung off of the comet prematurely on your return home, and you get stuck in the vastness of space with no hope of return to either Earth.

“Remember, also that all of this will take 13 years away from your personal life. That alone will take out every family man on the planet, but it is also a significant reason for rejection among bachelors as well, who view this time in their lives as significant for settling into family life or the pursuit of any other personal activity. The 23-year olds out there have a hard time coming to grasp with the fact that they’ll be gone until they’re 36. Would you want to give up your twenties for a likely suicide mission?

“Well, if you put it that way…” Warron’s voice trailed off in a tone of defeat and discouragement—not only out of empathy for his brother, but also out of disappointment for his own curiosity. Everybody wanted to know what—or more importantly—who was on this other earth.

“Basically, we have conflicting requirements in the person that can fill the job. We need somebody who is intelligent enough to understand the science and engineering of the mission, and yet stupid enough to not figure out that we’re asking 13 years of their lives for a suicide mission, or somebody who has absolutely nothing to lose.”

There was a long pause in the conversation at this point. After looking at his watch, Zimmer broke the silence. “Did you fall asleep on me during that explanation, Warron? It is getting awfully late there in Atlanta.”

“Um… no, actually I was just… thinking about something.”

“What’s that?” the elder Zimmer asked.

“Oh, sorry… it’s nothing… ludicrous really… but then again…”

“Go ahead.”

“It’s just something you said that made me think… You said you need ‘somebody who has absolutely nothing to lose’, right?”

“That’s right,” Zimmer said with full, albeit reserved, attention.

“It’s going to sound crazy, Carl, but I might be able to help you out.”

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