Chapter 5 - FLIT
“All systems nominal,” Colonel Alexander Fields said as he flicked a toggle on the master control board to lock the scout saucer Salteer in a parking orbit 2,000 miles above the surface of Earth.
Alex Fields was an African-American who had graduated from the U.S. Airforce Academy with a degree in aircraft design. As a member of the trusted inner circle of FORCE command, he was in charge of all air combat units.
The HiDef view screen covering two-thirds of the bulkhead in front of him depicted the upper half of the beautiful blue-green planet Earth floating against a background of black space. The idyllic scene was marred by thin columns of black smoke rising into the atmosphere from some major metropolitan areas destroyed by the Chrysallaman military. Most of the fires around the World had been extinguished, but the smoke proved many of the ruins still smoldered in deep underground pockets the firefighters were having trouble reaching.
A question from the man sitting in the co-pilot’s couch interrupted Alex’s dark thoughts.
“Have you detected anything out of the ordinary about the flight characteristics of the saucer since we left the hangar?” McPherson asked.
“None,” Alex replied as he swiveled the master control couch toward the Scotsman. “I didn’t notice a single power fluctuation during the flight. Everything is performing within normal parameters.”
“That’s reassuring. I can think of no reason why the modified gravity-drive module should act or perform differently from the standard module, but I guess that’s why we have test flights.”
Getting to his feet, Alex said, “Let’s mosey down to the Engineering Deck and make sure everything is copasetic before we begin the more demanding tests. I’m not willing to rely on the verbal assurances of Dr. Heinbaum about the status of the new gravity module. He’s acting just a bit too nervous for my liking.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” McPherson agreed with a sly smile. “Heiny has been crying like a 3-year old spoiled brat given time-out for bad behavior ever since General Blunt ordered him to be a crewmember on the test flight.”
They walked the series of ramps leading to the lower deck level and arrived at the entryway to the Engineering bay just in time to hear Heinbaum berating Longarrow.
“I’m telling you I see a blemish in the gravity module orb! What do you mean you don’t see anything. It’s right in front of you. No, not there! Farther right.”
“What’s the problem, little buddy?” McPherson asked.
Heinbaum was standing on the steel mesh walkway that surrounded the fusion reactor. His hands gripped the bottom of a tall stepladder. Longarrow was balanced at the top of it polishing a section of the one foot diameter glass globe of the gravity-drive module. The clear globe was filled with a white cloud shot through with gray swirls and sparkling flashes of light.
Exasperated by his inability to make Longarrow understand where the perceived greasy spot was on the globe, the gray-haired scientist declared, “I’m surrounded by imbeciles! Here I am trying my best to provide a safe environment for our critical tests, and all I get in return is open-mouthed stares of stupidity.”
Ambling up to a point where they could closely observe the condition of the module, neither Alex nor McPherson could discern any streak or smear on the glassy surface.
Putting his hand on Heinbaum’s shoulder, McPherson said, “Doc. Relax. It’ll all be over soon.”
Then in a more jovial tone he thought would lighten the mood, “If we don’t explode in a sparkling cloud of tiny little atoms during the test, then you’ll be home in no time. I’ll be sure to tuck you in your bed all nice and comfy with a glass of warm milk and a fresh baked cookie.”
Heinbaum seemed to calm down until he heard the muffled laughter Ernest and Alex were desperately trying to hide.
Jerking his shoulder away from McPherson’s hand, the weasily scientist growled, “You hyenas shall rue the day you dared make fun of the great Dr. John Heinbaum. Mark my words!”
In a half-hearted display of surrender, McPherson raised his hands palms outward and said, “Is everything in readiness for the first test run, Doc?”
The heat of his anger having passed for the moment, Heinbaum nodded, “All appears to be ready. One very important fact is the continued viability of the HKG powering the modified gravity-drive module.”
Walking to a set of instruments he had installed to measure the strength of the gravity waves generated by the module and the power emanations from the artificial black hole created within the fullerene structure, the scrawny scientist explained, “As we all know, an HKG will only function in close proximity to a moving body with a mass of planetary proportions. Up to this point in time, the absolute limit of the ability of an HKG to draw upon the kinetic energy source was at a distance no greater than 500 miles from the surface of a planet with the mass of Earth. Yet we are 2,000 miles away from Earth, and the HKG cup you installed to hold the Buckyball is still operational.”
Turning his beady eyes toward the Scottish bear, Heinbaum admitted in a sour tone, “It appears Dr. Roemer’s theory is proving to be correct. Your HKG cup seems to indeed be tapping into an energy source accessible through the black hole. The existence of the white cloud in the emitter globe is undeniable proof the energy tap is still working.”
“There is one other interesting development as well,” Ernest chimed in.
“We reconnected the power coupling from the fusion reactor to the gravity module when we reinstalled the new unit. The coupling provides reactor power to the gravity module and connects the module with the saucer’s computer controlling the destination coordinates. During the trip from the Nevada warehouse to our current orbital position, no power was drawn from the fusion energy source by the gravity-drive. The only thing I can conclude is the module drew the power it required to place us in orbit from the McPherson HKG.”
Shrugging, Ernest added, “There’s no other viable explanation.”
Grinning under his bushy mustache, McPherson peered sideways at Heinbaum and bragged, “Geez, and here I thought that master electrician certificate I got on the internet was just for show.”
“Yes, an unfunny comedy show written by a worthless buffoon,” Heinbaum retorted.
“Well let’s get this show on the road then,” Alex said, trying to defuse a probable blowup. “How do you want to proceed, Doctor?”
The acknowledgment from Alex that his opinions and recommendations were important to the success of the mission made Heinbaum’s face light up, “The first test should be a short hop designed to confirm the modified gravity-drive module is properly calibrated. I would suggest the moon is an appropriate target. If anything goes amiss, we’ll be close enough to Earth for a rescue team to arrive and tow us back to my laboratory where proper modifications can be implemented.”
Narrowing his eyes as he considered the possibilities of the destination for the second leg of the test flight, Heinbaum said, “I think the next target should be Pluto. At the speed of light, the journey will take approximately 4.6 hours. Provided there are no complications with generating and sustaining the gravity-drive envelope, such a long period of continued operation should provide adequate confidence in the operational viability of the modified system.”
Receiving nods of agreement from Longarrow and McPherson to Heinbaum’s proposed plan, Alex confirmed, “The Moon and then Pluto it is.”
“Ernest, I need you and the Doc to keep an open mic at all times. Monitor all your instruments continuously. If you see the slightest unusual twitch in a dial or needle, advise Jerome and me, and we’ll abort the test. I don’t want this flight to end with all of us squished into the side of an asteroid or something.”
Receiving a confirming shake of the head from Ernest and a familiar scowl from the slick-haired scientist, Alex and McPherson returned to the master control room and set the destination controls for the Moon. The Chrysallamans had created a database dedicated to providing the spatial coordinates for all the solar systems and planets explored by the lizards.
The first thing a Chrysallaman exploratory team did upon finding a new solar system was to enter the spatial location coordinates for the solar system into the Chrysallaman galactic database. Spatial coordinates were based upon the geometry of a pyramid. Four existing spatial coordinates for known solar systems formed the four sides of the pyramid. The rotational center of the Milky Way Galaxy acted as the apex of the pyramid.
The spatial location of any solar system in the galaxy was determined by the intersection of four straight lines from the sides of the pyramid intersected again by a straight line from the apex of the pyramid. The spatial location of any planet or moon within a solar system was determined by passive transponders drilled into the crust of the planet or moon. The transponder reacted to radio signals from the scout saucer or mother ship and provided unerring location parameters for every planet and moon regardless of orbital position.
The touchscreen for the destination computer worked just like most GPS units available at any Earthbound electronics store. After selecting an available solar system from the database, the planets and moons were accessible from a scrolling list of pictures and transponder coordinates. All the pilot had to do was select the destination from the list by either photo or transponder code. The computer calculated and the word ‘GO’ appeared in a green-colored square in the bottom left hand corner of the touch screen. Tapping the GO button locked the destination and initiated the gravity-drive. Humans loved their acronyms so the Chrysallaman Galactic Positioning Computer was designated the GPC.
Alex twirled the saucer away from Earth and centered the Moon in the view screen. Glancing at McPherson, he said, “You realize this first leg will only take around one and a half seconds, right? When I push this button, if we blink our eyes we’ll have arrived. You ready?”
McPherson was tight lipped and his skin just a shade lighter than usual. He had always been an Earthbound fighter and skipping around the solar system in a spaceship was not in his comfort zone. Gripping the arm rests on his flight couch so tightly his fists were white knuckled, the big man kept his eyes locked on the view screen and nodded his head.
Flipping on his in-ship communicator, Alex announced, “Destination set for the Moon. All systems are in the green. Engineering section, please confirm your instrument readings are nominal.”
“Confirmed all nominal. We are ready on this end,” Ernest replied.
“Very well,” Alex answered. “Activation in 3 - 2 - 1. GO.”
Instantly, the view on the monitor changed from a moon 240,000 miles away looking like a large white light hanging in the sky to a screen filling panorama featuring a whitish-gray plain pocked with meteor impact craters. The change in perspective happened so quickly, Alex’s eyes felt like they went in and out of focus several times before they settled back to normal. Checking his instruments for the current position of the saucer, Alex discovered they were in orbit around the moon at a distance of 500 miles above its surface.
“Damn that was quick,” McPherson muttered.
“What’s happened up there?” Heinbaum asked. “I thought you were going to activate the drive.”
“Doc, the drive was activated and the flight lasted only about 2 seconds. We’re in orbit 500 miles from the Moon’s surface,” McPherson responded.
“Fascinating,” was the only response.
Longarrow gave more information, “Our instruments never wavered. As far as our readings are concerned, the trip was a non-event. The negation of inertia by the gravity-drive envelope was 100% effective. We felt no sensation of movement. None at all.”
“Okay,” Alex said as he reached for the GPC and began tapping the touchscreen. “I’m selecting the coordinates for Pluto.”
“Hold a moment while I make an adjustment in my instruments,” Heinbaum muttered as he began to shift some of his equipment. “I want to measure the energy drawn by the fullerene cup from the black hole during the flight.”
It took a few minutes for Heinbaum and Longarrow to make the changes. Alex and McPherson heard various scrapes, squeaks and metallic clicks as the scientists made whatever alterations were necessary in their equipment and sensing devices. They could tell from some of the noises that Ernest had climbed the stepladder to get close to the gravity-drive module.
At last, Heinbaum said, “We’re ready down here Colonel. You can activate the drive any time, but please give us a five count.”
Twirling the saucer away from the Moon and centering the distant pinprick of light that was the planet Pluto in the view screen, Alex looked at McPherson and said, “At their closest proximity to each other as they orbit the Sun, the Earth and Pluto are 2.66 billion miles apart. At the current time, the distance is about 3.1 billion miles. At lightspeed, the trip will take a little over 4.62 hours. We should be able to watch Pluto grow slowly from a tiny point of light into a planet.”
Smiling with an excited look, Alex gushed, “This is really cool! I used to love how the Star Trek TV show would have the starship Enterprise appear to leap toward a planet as you watched. I can’t wait to experience the visual sensation.”
McPherson’s face was again a tight mask of tension and his fists gripped the armrests of his flight couch with a strength threatening to crush the cushioned metal forms.
“Alex, please just push the button and stop telling me how excited you are,” he hissed through clenched teeth.
Chuckling at the big man’s apprehension, Alex said, “Gentlemen, activation in 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1. GO.”
Instantly, the view on the monitor changed from a pinprick of light in a sea of blackness spotted here and there by the sparkles of other stars to a screen-filling panorama featuring a dark gray plain with scattered high mountain ranges and deeply shadowed valleys. The change in perspective was so rapid, Alex’s eyes again felt like they went in and out of focus several times before they settled back to normal. The effect was dizzying. Checking his instruments for the current position of the saucer, Alex discovered they were in orbit around Pluto at a distance of 500 miles above its surface.
“Holy cow!” Alex whispered.
“Amazing!” Heinbaum exclaimed from his workbench in the Engineering bay. “There was a momentary draw of energy from the black hole so immense my digital meters were incapable of measuring the magnitude at their current calibration. During the time we have until we arrive at Pluto, I’ll have to reconfigure the meters to measure megavolts so I have some idea of the correct power demands of our modified system.”
“Doc,” McPherson croaked.
“What now?” Heinbaum asked haughtily. “Can’t you give me some peace every once in a while? I’m too busy to have you underfoot all the time.”
“Doc, shut up and come to the control room right now,” the freaked-out Scotsman muttered.
In his sixty odd years of close association with McPherson, Heinbaum had never once heard fear in the voice of the redheaded bear. The anxiety in the tone coming through clenched teeth brought the scientist up short. Heinbaum and McPherson had developed an odd couple close friendship over the years and each one cared for the other even if neither would ever admit it. Without another word, Heinbaum rushed from the Engineering bay to see what was wrong.
As he entered the master control room and saw the main view screen, Heinbaum stared momentarily at the dark gray, mountainous landscape and asked, “What happened? Why are we still in orbit around the Moon?”
Simultaneously, Alex and McPherson swiveled their flight couches toward him and said, “That’s Pluto.”
For just a moment, Heinbaum was speechless. Then his eyes narrowed and deep creases formed in his. Striding to the GPC, he double-checked the destination coordinates and confirmed they were correct.
For the second time in less than 10 minutes, Heinbaum said, “Fascinating.”
“Doc, what’s going on?” McPherson asked. His eyes were so wide they showed white all around. “It was supposed to take us over 4 hours to get from the Moon to Pluto, but it took only one second.”
“I believe I have an idea,” Heinbaum replied as he crossed his arms.
“But in order to test my theory, I’m going to have to make some changes in my sensors and measuring instruments. A half-hour should be sufficient,” and he began to turn away when another thought crossed his mind.
“Colonel, would you please check your GPC and determine the planet in our solar system currently farthest away from Pluto.”
When Alex looked at him like he didn’t understand what he was being asked to do, Heinbaum explained with uncharacteristic patience, “Due to the orbital positions of the various planets around our Sun, at least one or more of the planets, maybe Venus, Mars or Mercury, is for the moment at a point farthest from Pluto. I want you to find out which planet is the most remote. Our next test leg will be to that planet.”
Understanding wiped away the blank look in Alex’s eyes and with a nod, he turned his attention to plotting a course on the GPC. McPherson rose and walked toward Heinbaum.
Trying to get back some of his usual bravado, he said, “I think I’ll stick with you, Heiny. You’ll need someone to help with heavy lifting.”
Realizing his friend was severely stressed from the space flight, Heinbaum reached as high as he could, patted McPherson’s shoulder and said, “Of course, you big ox. A little muscle could come in handy.”
45 minutes later, Heinbaum and Ernest completed their adjustments and realignments of the instruments crowding the workbenches in the Engineering bay.
Many differently colored cables snaked from the base of the gravity-drive module to a myriad of instruments with iPad touchscreens. Some of the wires leading to spectrum analyzers and oscilloscopes were attached to the emitter globe with suction cups. Blinking lights and a slight odor of ozone gave the whole setup the appearance of a Frankenstein laboratory rigged to reanimate a dead body rather than one assembled to measure the output of a high energy spacecraft drive module. The pristine white lab coat, oil slicked gray hair and wild man look in Heinbaum’s eyes made the impression of the Frankenstein lab even more realistic.
“Ernest, I want a complete second-by-second log kept in the computer of all detectible phenomena.”
“All set, Doctor. I have automatic recording devices attached to every piece of our equipment. If a fly farts in this room, I’ll have a record.”
Having something to do besides sit on a flight couch and watch Alex push buttons and flip toggles had calmed McPherson. His skin had returned to its normal lily-white color, and there was more swagger in his steps.
Peering about and seeing nothing else he could do to help with the setup, McPherson announced, “Guess I’ll head back to the Control Room and gird myself for the next test flight.”
Without looking at him, Heinbaum said, “Yes. Yes. Begone foul spot.”
Grinning at the usual verbal abuse, McPherson left the Engineering section and made his way to the master control room. As he took his seat next to Alex, he watched as a series of calculations updated themselves on the view screen.
“What’s going on?” he asked as a graphic representation of the Moon and Pluto was displayed just below the calculations.
“Our flight path was invisible,” Alex responded as he keyed another command. “See. The flight path simply begins at the moon as a brief flare and ends at Pluto as a starburst. There is no intervening trail or track the saucer’s instruments are able to discern.”
Pulling on his goatee, Alex appeared to be in deep thought. After a few moments he continued, “It’s my understanding from the theory of special relativity that spacetime is curved. Our flight path should have stretched in a slight curve beginning at the Moon then veering away from galactic center and ending at Pluto.”
McPherson shrugged since he literally could’ve cared less. The only curves he liked were the ones on a beautiful woman. Alex interpreted the shrug as an invitation to provide more information.
“Take a guess how fast we made the trip from the Moon to Pluto.”
“It was real fast. My guess is 1 second give or take.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Alex replied in an annoyed tone.
“We were 3.1 billion miles from Pluto when we departed the Moon. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. The trip should have taken 4.62 hours at the speed of light. Since we arrived at Pluto in about 1 second, our speed relative to light is easy to compute. We went 16,667 times the speed of light if my calculations are correct.”
“Not possible,” McPherson responded. “I may not know much, but the only theoretical energy particle in our universe capable of moving faster than light is the tachyon. No one even knows how fast a tachyon really moves.”
“I agree with you. There is no energy particle theoretically capable of moving at the speed we had to have in order to make the trip in 1 second. Couple that fact with the additional information the sophisticated instruments in this Chrysallaman saucer were unable to sense any flight path, and there is only one conclusion.”
Waiting for McPherson to ask what his conclusion was and receiving no indication the big fellow was curious, Alex answered himself.
“I don’t believe we traveled in the universe as we generally envision traveling. I think we somehow used the power source in the black hole to fold spacetime like a piece of paper. Our location point in spacetime at the Moon folded to touch the location point of Pluto in spacetime, and we transitioned to the Pluto location point. That’s why there was no flight path sensed by the saucer’s instruments because there was no flight path!”
“Kinda like opening a door and stepping through it?”
“So I’m guessing you think our flight from Pluto to the next destination will be just as instantaneous?”
“I don’t see why not. The GPC senses the location transponder in the destination planet and locks the coordinates into the gravity-drive module. As our lab rats have already confirmed, the compact mass of a black hole is capable of deforming spacetime. The deformation we create takes the shape of a fold enabling the point of origin and the destination to occupy virtually the same spatial point at the same moment in time. I think the one second delay is caused by the fact the origin and destination can’t occupy the same location at exactly the same time, or they’d mutually destroy each other.”
At that moment, the on-board communicator lit up and Heinbaum’s voice grumbled, “We’re ready for the next test leg. Are the destination coordinates set?”
“On the money,” Alex replied. “Our destination is Venus. According to the GPC, Venus is currently 4.6 billion miles from Pluto. At the speed of light, the trip should take around 6.87 hours.”
“I beg to differ with you, Colonel. According to your theory of spatial transition, the flight will only take one second,” Heinbaum replied. “It appears lab rats, as you referred to us a few moments ago, have the ability to understand English.”
Alex had forgotten he ordered the mics in the Engineering bay to remain open. Heinbaum and Longarrow had heard his entire conversation with McPherson.
Rolling his eyes in exasperation and embarrassment at the oversight, Alex said, “Sorry about the lab rat comment . . .”
“Oh keep your apology to yourself, Colonel. Frankly, I see merit in your surmise. It actually makes some sense. In fact, I’ve modified our testing equipment to look for evidence supporting your hypothesis.”
“I’ve decided to view the transition myself from the control room. Wait for my arrival before you initiate the drive. Ernest is fully capable of manning the equipment here in Engineering without my constant supervision,” Heinbaum observed in a condescending tone.
A few minutes later, Heinbaum strolled into the master control room and stood behind Alex’s flight couch. With his hands clasped behind his back like a middle school teacher supervising a physics experiment, Heinbaum asked Alex to explain his flight path sensor readings again since he had only heard the conversation between Alex and McPherson over the open mic without the benefit of seeing the charts and calculations.
Alex rehashed his readings and graphics with particular emphasis on the inability of the saucer’s sensors to discern a flight path.
Satisfied with the answers, Heinbaum said, “Very well Colonel, you may proceed with activation.”
Pausing as he turned toward the microphone embedded in the control console, Heinbaum asked, “Ernest? Is your equipment ready for the next leg of the test?”
“Yes, Doctor, all systems ready,” Longarrow replied.
Receiving a nod from Heinbaum, Alex glanced at McPherson and noticed one thing was different about the Scotsman. He appeared to be more relaxed and didn’t have a death grip on his flight couch armrests. Even so, the locked jaw and deeply creased forehead on the man were ample evidence he was still not joyful about space flight.
Confirming the GPC destination coordinates were set for Venus, Alex hovered his index finger over the green square labeled ‘GO’ and said, “Activation in 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1. GO.”
Instantly, the view on the main screen shifted from Pluto’s dark-gray plain with high mountain ranges and deeply shadowed valleys to a screen filled with swirling brownish white clouds. Alex and McPherson were prepared for the rapid eye twisting shift in aspect as the spacecraft transitioned from Pluto to Venus. They’d both looked away from the view screen the moment the drive was activated. Heinbaum hadn’t witnessed the visual phenomena before. Standing behind Alex, he was focused on the view screen waiting to observe the transition. When his eyes went in and out of focus several times before they settled back to normal, he lost his balance and fell into an ignominious heap on the deck.
McPherson jumped from his flight couch, helped Heinbaum stand and ushered the dizzy scientist to a seat where he could reclaim his balance and dignity.
Peering at Alex, McPherson said, “Let me guess. The computers say we are now in orbit around the planet Venus.”
As Alex nodded, Ernest exclaimed over the open mic, “It appears we siphoned 1,050 megavolts of power from the black hole to effectuate the flight. Unbelievable! That’s the amount of power in ten average lightning bolts.”
Rising from the flight couch and clutching the backrest to steady himself because he was still lightheaded, Heinbaum ordered, “Set course for Earth. I have a lot of work to do analyzing the data from our recordings.”
“Longarrow!” he bellowed as he walked unsteadily toward the control room hatch. “Reset the monitors and recorders for our final test leg return to Earth.”
As an afterthought, the still dizzy scientist demanded, “And get me something to eat. I think I’m having a sugar crash.”