This is a serial novel, so if you’re new to Sol, it’s best to start at the beginning.
June 1, 2016 / June 1, 2016
We appeared in the Kolaran system about sixty million miles from Kolara, in the orbital path of the system’s third planet, Pritaar. Kolara being the second planet. The suit amplified the effects of faster than light travel, magnified the transition into subspace. Every muscle, bone, and sinew in my body momentarily twisted then entropically and euphorically released. The light and sound was more brilliant in the moments after we hit Kolara. The blues from the Kolaran star cooler, the Ensari amber lighting warmer. I could feel the mechanical vibrations of the ship in my nanofiber wrapped bones, which themselves vibrated inside me. The resonance and artifacts a relic of the unnatural speed and distance we had traveled in less than a moment.
Raj pursed his lips and whistled quietly to himself. A solitary moment of elation.
“Well, that was unexpected.” I thought to Raj.
“Hold on for a sec. Need to recover here.” Raj chastised me.
The collar around Raj’s shirt was ringed with sweat. Raj’s connection to the little ship was deeper than mine. Where my suit had become a part of me, Raj’s exoskeleton made him a part of the ship. As the fibers wound around my internal organs and bones, the ship wound itself around Raj and entangled him. So much so, that Raj felt the temperature gradients on the exterior hull, the power discharge of the FTL drive, and when damaged, the pain of that damage. Compared to my euphoria, which I would say was akin to enjoying that first sip of warm coffee in the morning, Raj was orgasmic.
“Did you feel that?!” Raj exclaimed.
“Felt pretty good.” I replied.
“PRETTY GOOD?! Shit, man. That was amazing. This ship is my baby.”
I started probing the sensors of The Wedge to find the Hensie ship. Because Raj is so connected to Wedge, he saw what I was doing, or trying to do and intervened, shutting off my access to the sensors.
“Relax. I hid us before we left. Keep probing with the sensors like that and we’ll be seen for sure. Only passive sensors. Only the ion drive. Makes us look like a tiny little black fleck hanging around in space.” Raj paused for a moment as he checked. “We’re not being scanned. Also, this is my ship. Never touch another man’s radio.”
I felt a firewall block my access to sensor control. I was made into a spectator.
“Where’s the Hensie ship?” I asked sheepishly.
Raj marked it in my vision. It was between Kolara and Ri, the blue star holding this system together, at the Lagrange point, shielded in part by the outpouring of radiation from the star and hidden by the brightness of the star itself. We debated the approach for 10 minutes before arriving at the conclusion that we would approach together and separate at the far side of the planet. I would detach and use the gravitational pull of Kolara and its first moon to slingshot around to the star side and intercept the Hensie ship, The Braggard. Raj would hide the Wedge behind the dark of the third Kolaran moon. My trip would take over a day and a half from our entry location. Raj’s would take a little less than a day. Orbital mechanics a gift of our suits as well. Raj pointed Wedge in the calculated and discussed direction and ignited the engines.
The Wedge was a full service jump ship packed with all the great comforts of modern day life, like an FTL drive and a couple of seats. It was clear it was only a method of travel, a space truck, fit only for transporting two people and a pod. I would say that it didn’t do it comfortably, but the suits made sure we were comfortable, with momentary glimpses of what it must feel like to live in Heaven, at least for Raj. I consciously searched my suit for where food might be located in the ship, and the suit, in response, formed fibers at the tips of my fingers and attached those fibers to the jump ship itself. My stomach didn’t feel more or less full, but my hunger and thirst became sated as the suit pushed the base chemicals that gave my body energy into my cells. I felt hot and flush for a moment as my energy surged and the tendrils pulled back into the suit’s fingertips.
Clearly, eating was unnecessary, just as breathing, pissing, and shitting were unnecessary. For a moment, I lamented the loss of my purely scatalogical pursuits, if only because the sweet, sometimes sweaty, release of my own waste was a satisfactory result of a strong morning coffee. But then I realized that I no longer needed the coffee either, something I truly cherished. For me it was an olfactory satisfaction, only exceeded by the warm caramel sweetness of drinking the half and half, coffee, and way too much sugar. If I needed energy while I wore the suit, I received it from my surroundings, from the elements around me. Hunger quelled by chemicals, a utopia for picky eaters, a psychological hell for someone, like me, who once spent two weeks pay on dinner for one at a Michelin starred restaurant when I was 22. I didn’t starve or go hungry during the time I wore the suit, but I did so without any of the satisfaction I was getting from not starving on Earth.
The Kolaran system was as vast as our own solar system. A few dozen satellites orbited the ringed planet of Kolara, velocities a little slower than those around earth but in closer orbits. That probably meant gravity wasn’t as strong. An asteroid belt rotated slowly around the fourth planet in this five planet system. One of the moons around Kolara wobbled in its orbit. A large chunk missing. Half of a Hensie Empire class ship rotated slowly along with the moon. It had been cut cleanly at midships. The ship’s sensors detected traces of a gravity field around the ship and penetrating into the moon. If I was a betting man, it appeared the Hensie emerged from faster than light travel half inside the moon.
The star, millions and millions of kilometers away, a mere speck from our location, cast a blue pall across the Kolari moon, now magnified in my view. If that ship had 10,000 Hensie aboard, they were most likely all dead. A wave of grief for their deaths washed over me. A surprising emotion given what they did to me, to us. The debris cloud and 3/4 of a moon made this look like a like a system long dead or in the process of dying. I guess anything in space would look dead unless you got close enough to see the ants running around. I wondered if the Solar System looked and felt the same, now that it had returned to its original lifeless state.
“See the moon with the ship sticking out of it…or the ship with a moon sticking out of it? How does that happen?” I sent to Raj.
“Well, from what I know about this whole faster than light travel thing, which isn’t that much, we don’t travel in real space and time. By applying a massive amount of concentrated power around the ship, space and time fold around us and our origin and destination are brought together. I’ve read sci-fi books that call it underspace or u-space. The Ensari call it transspace after the name of the tech, transwarp drive. When you’re going FTL, you can’t see where you’re going. You have to rely on knowledge of your destination to make sure you don’t reemerge in…something, like a moon for instance. That’s why we’re taking the slow bus toward Kolara. Safety first.”
“Have anyone back home?” I asked. We had a day, so I made small talk.
“Of course I had people. I wasn’t born in this 36 year old adonis like body. I was seeing someone, Clara, but it was new, maybe five weeks. My parents were in Boston, too. They were old, 80’s, so I don’t think they tried to evacuate and I couldn’t get to them.” Raj trailed off.
“Don’t be. We’ve all had our tragedies. More than our fair share now, I’d guess. They had a good run. Immigrants who risked it all to give their future, and only, child a better chance. Maybe we all had a good run. Maybe everyone who got churned up on Earth are the lucky ones, not chumming the water for more death and destruction with our shiny new toys…they are really shiny though.”
Raj drifted off, his mouth twitched a few times. The corners of his lips tensed slightly as, I imagined, he pined for what might have been.
“I wonder what happened to Clara. She was nice.”
“What did she do?” Seemed like the right thing to ask.
“A nurse. Pediatrics. Oncology maybe. Pediatric Oncology? Shit. We talked about it the whole first date, but I can’t remember. It was a specialty where the stories made you want to cry. She has, maybe had, really good stories.”
“How’d you meet?”
“Arranged by my parents. First time an arrangement like that seemed promising, actually.”
Raj trailed off again. This time as he ground his teeth.
“You have people back home?” Raj asked.
“Well. Not back home. My wife and daughter were taken by the Hensie.”
“Shit, man. Sorry. What are their names?”
“Kathryn. Raylin. Kat & Ray.”
“Nice names.” Raj took a long beat as he chewed on his thoughts, a trait he displayed when he felt painted into a corner during conversation, usually by his own doing.
“Makes sense.” Raj finally added.
“What makes sense?”
“That you put on the suit. That you’re here in this ship, flying through a vacuum at 90,000 km/hr, risking the effects of time dilation to get your family.”
“Prime is convincing even if he’s not very talkative. There really wasn’t an alternative though, was there? No home to go back to. Only direction was deeper down the well.”
“It’s a deep well.” Raj responded.
I had already starting searching for what he meant by time dilation. The effects, proven back on Earth by Hafele and Keating in 1971 and on Ensari by a physicist named Hiroon during their common year 3345, meant that traveling to the Kolaran system took .0001 seconds for Raj and me, but lasted 51 days for Kat and Ray. It was a question I had not thought to ask before we left and an answer Prime didn’t think to provide without me asking.
“51 days.” I lamented.
“A lot can happen in 51 days.”
We stopped talking. Our thoughts silent or at least kept to ourselves as we hurtled through this place no human had ever seen or known until we arrived. I put the time dilation out of my head. At that moment, it didn’t matter how much time passed for me versus Kat because I was certain I wasn’t going to survive the next day. But I was moving forward, and moving forward was better than the alternative.
Chapter 8 – Dilation by Christopher Hazlett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://robotissmiling.com/2016/01/19/chapter-8-dilation.