PLEASE NOTE: This is part 2 of the story. Part One is online here, and Part 3 will be online next week
The conference room was beginning to fill up. Toward the front was what Watez called ‘The Gray Beards’ - the top brass of the Foundation - although none of them really had a beard. The back had the technicians and scientists of project 1701. Tanaka and Paulson were with this group. Watez was seated alone at the center of the conference table, facing the wall screens with their views from the Argo.
The images showed a large cylinder 18 kilometers in diameter and 40 kilometers long or about twice the size of the New Eden habitat. New Eden rotated twenty times an hour to give its inter surface a simulated gravity half as strong as that on earth, but the object in the pictures wasn’t moving at all. This was not the only thing that bothered Watez: there seemed to be a very large hole in one side, as if from a collision or explosion. Watez thoughts were interrupted by the beginning of the meeting.
“I am Doctor Watanabe, and as you should know, I am the director for the High Frontier Foundation,” the director said as he went on to introduced the department heads of the Foundation. The only two that seemed important to Watez were Doctor Hynek, head of exploration, and Doctor Stryker, head of research, and her boss for project 1701.
“Doctor Hynek, please give us a run down on project Argo.”
‘Sure,’ thought Watez, ‘They have a name, we just have a dumb number.’
Hynek stood and launched into the history of the Argo One.
“After the first habitats - New Eden and Clark City on the far side of Luna - seceded from the Earth in 2043, the consortium of Japanese and American companies that had built them deeded ninety percent of the stock to the new government calling itself ‘The Solar Federation.’ The rest, along with all the patents it held, went to ‘The High Frontier Foundation,’ which was chartered to explore space and advance the art and science of spaceflight. The United Nation accused the consortium of planning the secession from the beginning of the project, and the consortium didn’t even bother denying it because it was so obviously true. The UN placed sanctions on them, but couldn‘t do much else.”
“To stimulate the economy of the new Federation, project Argo was conceived to build and launch an interstellar probe to Epsilon Eridani, which at that time was known to have at lest two planets. It was a K class star so its planets were thought to have a good chance of life. The Argo used a standard superheated plasma ion engine to boost into the Oort cloud where it switched to a modified Bussard ramjet.”
“Both the first new designs of the research department.” interrupted Doctor Stryker.
Hynek shot a dirty look at Stryker and continued, “The Argo was designed to boost to half way then flip and decelerate to the Epsilon system. This would take a total of fifty nine years from launch. Once in the system it was programmed to go to one of the outer planet's Lagrange points and start to survey the system from there.”
“What went wrong?” asked one of the young engineers.
“Nothing went wrong, the probe did everything perfectly,” Hynek said with pride. “When Argo reached the Lagrange point, that was there,” he pointed to the view screens. Everyone turned to the screens and just stared for a second.
After letting the meaning of what they saw sink in Doctor Watanabe stated, “The Habitat administrator and half of the heads of state on the UN security counsel have called demanding to know what we are going to do about this? There are a lot of people on Earth that are going ape shit over it.”
“Sir,” said Watez, “what do they expect us to do? That thing is ten and a half light years away?”
“Very good question captain. Now on that point, I will leave the rest to Doctors Hynek and Stryker,” Watanabe said as he turned and left the room. The room exploded, with everyone taking at once. Doctor Stryker stood and pounded the table with his hand calling for order all this did was increase the noise level.
Watez slowly stood, looked around and said in a loud voice, “Everyone please, shut the fuck up!” The last part of that turned into a commanding shout. At once, the people in the room stopped and looked at her.
“Thank you,” she said in a pleasant voice, then continued, “You where going to say Doctor Stryker?” She gave a mock-Japanese nod to Stryker and a big smile.
“Well, thank you. To answer your question: they want us to go there and check it out. So the next question is can you do it?”
Tanaka jumped up and shouted, “Yes!”
Before she could go on she was stopped by Watez holding up her hand and stating, “Doctor, excuse the enthusiasm of my navigator, but the X-301 can not do it!” Less sternly she continued, “The QTD can - in theory - get us to Epsilon, but not using the X-301.”
“What is the QTD and X-301?” asked Hynek with a puzzled look on his face.
“Go ahead, Captain, he’s cleared to know and she's your baby,” said Stryker as he waved at Watez and sat down. This was it: as the lead test pilot and project coordinator Watez had to put her ass on the line. She started with the basics first:
“’QTD’ stands for ‘Quantum Transition Device.’ It can change its quantum energy potential from what it is normally to a different value. This is useful because every point in space has a different quantum energy. A mass has to have the same quantum potential as the point it sits at. Changing the potential of a mass will cause the mass to transition to the point that equals that potential. This happens instantaneously, no matter the distance. The QTD will take along any mass that is inside a defined distance from its own center. That's the basics. If you want the theory, I have ten thousand pages of mathematics and charts on how it works.”
“No thanks, captain, I will take your word for it, but what's the catch?” asked Hynek.
“The catch, Doctor, is that it takes a lot of energy to do this. In theory one could go anywhere in the universe, but in practice two light years is about the farthest we could jump. Also, you have to be in fairly flat space-time or at a Lagrangian point to do it or you become a burst of subatomic partials”
“You have tested this, it's not just theory we're talking here?”
“Yes we have done five unmanned runs. Four were successful.” replied Watez
“Four successes? What about the fifth?”
“That's how we know what happens when you are in the wrong place when you turn it on.” said Watez, deadpan.
Hynek thought for a minute then asked, “What about the X-301 you called it?”
Watez explained that the X-301 was their manned test bed, then said, “Look Doctor the X-301 is a capsule stuck on a reactor, a QTD and a small reaction drive. It is not meant for a long-duration flight. It's at least two years before we build our real ship, the X-302.” At this Paulson cleared his throat in that irritating Japanese way of interrupting someone.
Watez gave him a look that said go ahead and he stated, “There is an almost-completed hull at the Mitsubishi yard that could be modified to take a QTD. We could do it in a few months.”
“And you know this how?” asked Watez
“Well” Paulson said embarrassedly, “they tried to recruit me a few weeks ago, and they gave me a tour.” Tanaka and Watez gave him a look that only outraged women can master. Paulson quickly continued, “It's an asteroid pusher! She has the latest superheated plasma reaction engine, with lots of extra Delta V and a large cargo space that can be modified for the QTD and crew space. And fabrication does have the mark two QTD ready…” he trailed off, hesitantly.
Before Watez could say anything Stryker stood and said, “As you know, project 1701 was setup to find ways for man to have interstellar travel. To that end, the director and the Habitat administrator has given me carte blanche to get to Epsilon the fastest way possible; so as of now project 1701 is on a crash status and what ever you need, you let me know.”
Watez thought for a second then said, “Yes sir. I will need the specs on that ship of Mitsubishi's.” Turning to where Tanaka and Paulson where seated, she continued, “Oka, calculate a jump to Mars and back; RP, you and your team prep the X-301. We go in two days is that clear?”
“Yes Skipper,” Tanaka and Paulson answered in unison. ‘Crap, now their both doing it,’ thought Watez.
To Be Continued...