R e d s h i f t

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TWO

Sascha nodded off momentarily as the driver continued to talk about the German Lunaball League. He was seated beside him in the government sprinter and had tried to feign interest in the subject twenty minutes ago as they reached their cruising altitude. That had been a mistake. It annoyed him immensely especially because of the weight of the information that had been disclosed to him in the meeting he had just come from just before being sent to Hans Müller launch complex, outside Munich, where he was to catch an orbital ascender headed for the Mockingbird in Low Earth Orbit. Only someone utterly ignorant of the precariousness of his own life and the life of everyone else in the solar system could bleat on as this low level government employee was doing.

Never finding a break in the conversation to discretely change the subject, Sascha finally interjected as delicately as he could, and asked if the driver would mind if he caught a cat nap. The abruptness of the request clearly startled the driver but it wasn’t to have been avoided, Sascha knew. Someone more charismatic might have managed to be less jarring but you had to work with what you were given. Twisting under his straps a little, Sascha glanced briefly down at the cloud tops. It was early morning and he hadn’t slept since being recalled to Berlin from Tokyo. He closed his eyes and waited for sleep to overcome him. It didn’t though. He instead just twisted a few inches back and forth beneath his straps and heard the pilot as he mentally pressed different buttons displayed on all of the free surfaces inside of the cockpit. The sprinter was on automatic right now so the pilot was updating his itinerary to account for revised weather forecasts. He opened a calculator and transferred it to the arm rest where he was able to peck at it with mental jabs of the buttons. Sascha heard the air rush through the air vents.

At last, he managed to dose off, catching ten minutes of mental silence before the shuttle touched down on a pad at Hans Müller launch complex. Stepping down from the small aircraft, he peered up at the control tower several hundred meters away, white and tall. A man jogged towards him in a suit. As he approached, Sascha took a moment to glance around him. The air field wasn’t enormous. It supported private non-commercial spacecraft and a wing of military vehicles were stationed here as well.

“Sascha?” the man in the suit yelled to him over the whoosh of the cooling turbines of the sprinter. Sascha waved to him and smiled. The man drew closer. “Hans Dietrich. I’ve been ordered to get you immediately onto the ascender. They’re just waiting on you. A vector should be here any second. I don’t know where it is.”

“Sounds good,” Sascha said. “How much do you know?”

“Just the rough details. The man has the bomb and is planning to use it and there’s no time to lose.”

“Right,” Sascha said.

“I always hoped this day would never come. That the math would show us one day it just couldn’t be done. That the programmer would’ve caught something like this.”

“You can’t eliminate aliasing. Not where continuous waves and discrete limits are concerned.”

Sascha had been careful to conceal the truth. That the Dipole Government had known for a decade that it was possible. It had ceased to be a theoretical problem but had become an engineering one, and where there was a will, there was always a way. A white vector hovered up. Hans opened the sliding door for Sascha and they both climbed inside. The driver closed the door from his seat and they were off.

“The ascender will get you and the analytical team to the Mockingbird in about three hours. Further orders will be disclosed at that time. The man you will report to is Alexander Curie from DVPACO.” DVPACO was the Dipole Government Vacuum Phenomena Assessment and Control Organization. It was discrete from the comparatively better known International Nuclear and Antimatter Regulatory Agency. “Scott Gomez is his point man from the North American Union. He’s a senior fellow on vacuum computational phenomena at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert on the theory of this type of device.”

“Is he the only senior researcher attached to the research team?”

“No, his frequent co-author, a distinguished professor from Los Alamos, is coming as well. Scott’s in charge but they’re both highly knowledgeable. The man from Los Alamos is… forgive me… I believe, Potter. Andrew Potter or something like that. I’m getting old.”

“Nonsense, you don’t look a day over fifty,” Sascha observed.

The other man laughed. “I’m ninety-seven.”

Now Sascha laughed. “Oh darn. That’s nothing.”

Hans shrugged. They sat in silence for a few minutes until they had hovered close to the Z-46. The ascender was a military variant, morbidly gray in the overcast light, it’s cloaking paint in transparent mode at the moment. They got out and walked toward the loading ramp of the contoured vehicle. A group of people inside turned to look at them as they approached. They walked up the steep ramp.

“Mr. Gomez.” A man of indeterminate age but younger than Hans nodded respectfully. “This is Sashca Ivanov, head of the Brazil Desk of the German Federal Intelligence Service.”

“How do you do?” Scott said.

“Good to meet you, Sascha said.

“My regular collaborator Andrew Potter is the man in the blue jacket sitting over there.” The man appeared to be asleep. He gestured to the woman who appeared to be slightly his senior directly to his left. “This is Dr. Sonia Carpenter from Cambridge University, and this,” he tapped a young woman behind Sonia on the shoulder who was talking to a bearded man holding some documents, “is Denise Hopkins, my protégé from MIT. Forgive me for being abrupt but I think we should finish the introductions en route. He turned around and conveyed some information with his hands to a skyman who gave a thumbs up and informed the flight crew with his mind that they were ready to depart. The skyman looked to the back ramp and shifted his eyes imperceptibly as he used the GMUI - Graphic Mental User Interface - in his contact lenses to select and engage the intercom.

“All personnel prepare for immediate departure. Stand clear of the loading ramp and strap into a seat.” He walked back towards the ramp. When he had a good view of it and saw that it was clear, he closed it with his contacts and found a seat himself on the wall. They heard the sound of cooling turbines. As the sound built up, the conversation in the cabin assumed a higher volume to compensate for the white noise. There was a vague feeling of motion as the broad body of the ascender rose vertically off the ground and was caught by a breeze that imparted some momentum that took a few instants for the vehicle’s thrusters to compensate for. Switching on the paint screen next to him, Sascha peered through the side of the ascender and saw that they were pitched up at a forty-five degree angle and that this angle was steepening. He had always found this part of space travel the most disconcerting; the disconnect between what he felt because of the artificial gravity and the actual angle and acceleration of the vehicle. If the gravity system ever malfunctioned, it would suddenly become very uncomfortable.

Below, the ground rapidly fell away. Closing his eyes again, Sascha did a deep breathing exercise and lowered his heart rate. Supersonic air buffeted the craft as it attained greater velocity. He had forgotten what the necessary speed for orbit was. Fast. Without really trying, he fell into a deep sleep. Sascha had always suspected he was somewhat narcoleptic. Whenever he fell asleep while travelling, he seemed to achieve REM sleep immediately, which it was his understanding, wasn’t all that normal. It did have the benefit of making feel more rested afterwards, though. When he woke up, the world was a dark disk illuminated by green auroras and orange pinpricks. Ever so perceptibly, the thin line of atmosphere was given away by greenish airglow, neutralizing ions that had been made free radicals by the intense UV light from the Sun.

Sascha checked the time. He had been asleep for two hours. Long enough for one and a third rotations of the Earth. Since the dawn of manned spaceflight, human space travelers had always reported intense realignments in their sense of place in the universe and their relationship with Earth. Since the revelation that the universe was a program, humans had had their sense of place in the universe irrevocably shattered, to the extent that he personally wished the truth had never been discovered. But whenever he travelled by suborbital or orbital ascender, he was gratified to experience a wonderful sense of indifference to the underlying artificiality of his existence. That knowledge suddenly seemed less significant. He might not be real, but the world was still beautiful, filled with nuance and color as fine as the grains of sand on the beach, and whether in a crystalline substrate somewhere or not, that information was still there. Perhaps that was as real as anything else. Perhaps information, like energy, was real no matter what form it took. Perhaps mankind was too distracted with symantics.

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