1. Strawberry Goo
‘Calculate time until maximum propulsion reached.’
’52.5 seconds. Plasma flow destabilisation detected.’
‘Divert tertiary systems power to plasma grid.’
‘Flow stabilising at 82%.’
‘Estimated time until shockwave hits the ship.’
The ship compressed from the port hind quarter. It took 9 seconds for the deformation to ripple up the 800m long spaceship but only 14 nanoseconds for sensors to indicate trouble was on the way. The explosion’s first kiss of the ship’s massive engines became a nibble and at halfway up the hull, there was no escape. Polycarbons don’t melt under extreme forces like polyalloys do and so are much tougher. Instead, once they reach material fatigue limits, they shatter. The ship was incrementally chomped to bits.
‘Error: Critical engine failure.’
‘Error: Hull breaches.’
‘Yes. That, too.’
‘Warning: Critical systems failure.’
‘If you have nothing positive to add…’
‘Ejection system primed.’
’Not what I had in mind for today.’
The pilot extended a proboscis activating pod expulsion as the nose the of the vessel was engulfed. Heat seared through the multiplex portals, fire devouring the stars.
‘Prepare for launch.’
The pilot stabbed at the emergency launch button and the cockpit instantly filled with juicy foam. A vague hint of strawberries. The generated forces snapped the locking clamps just at their designed failure limits and the pod jumped to 0.1% the speed of light.
The pod dragged a burning trail of plasma across space. The three moons, the satellites and space stations, the whole planet, were consumed in destruction. The pod reached inertial stasis and the pilot came to, slithering a tentacle through the congealing foam toward the display. This was her first time experiencing emergency protocols. Irritation wriggled over her face.
‘All systems status, if you bloody-well please.’
‘All systems nominal.’
‘Oh, good news at last. Commence plea broadcast. Calculate return trajectory.’
‘Plea broadcast commenced. Incoming communication.’
‘Avenda, you survived?’ said the crackly voice.
‘Indeed I did. Is that Geera? The EM-pulse is quite bad.’
‘Yes, it is I. What exploded?’
‘No idea. I’ll have Oasis begin analysis. What is the state — ’
‘Transmission terminated at source… unable to reestablish connection.’
‘Provide full analysis of fireball. Map solar translink net.’
‘Analysis underway. Translink net… translink net… translink unavailable. Searching for nearest node… ‘
‘Oh, you’ve got to be kidding!’
The pod was leaving the newly-dead planet’s solar orbit and would need gravity capture to reduce momentum. Assistance may only arrive with extra-solar ships or with the few who survived the blast. The pilot slithered out of her capsule toward the emergency cabinet. The aroma of strawberries lightened the mood although the pink clashed terribly with the polycarbonate interior.
She scowled at the cabinet door dripping with goo and fumbled at the latch which was also dripping with with goo. Some delightfully scented goo glooped across her eye and over her mouth from the ceiling. Her imprecations were silenced mid-breath:
‘Fireball analysis complete. Ignition point at Jindebarrah Research Facility.’
‘Quantum gravity and propulsion, I seem to recall.’
‘Correct. At Solar Mean Time 03:48:53, the lunar quadrant failed to register on sensors. At SMT03:49:19, the facility registered double. At SMT03:49:21, ignition was detected.’
‘3-dimensional time isn’t as well behaved as 3-dimensional space, we have discovered.’
‘Oasis. Location of nearest node.’
‘EMP shockwave still expanding toward Ulan. Wave expected to dissipate prior to orbit of Faybon. Translink unavailable.’
‘Discontinue communications search. Orbital position of Station Ulan at time of EMP shockwave pass-through.’
’Station Ulan will be located at solar horizon. Potential minor damage.’
‘Engage trajectory for Station Ulan, minimum time within physical inertial limitations, thank-you!’
Starboard thrusters jolted the pod’s trajectory toward Ulan. Goo and pilot slurped across the cabin. The main thruster hummed into life resulting in the pilot surfing to the rear bulkhead, tentacles akimbo.
The pod started resonating like a pluck run down the longer strings of a harp.
‘Warning: Gravitational fluctuations.’
‘Oh. Really. Analyse, if you please.’
‘Shockwave interactions with solar gravitational field. Analysis underway.’
‘Remarkable… At least I’m not one of the researchers: They’re going down as the clumsiest octopods in all of history!’
The hull harmonised upward through inverted diminished sevenths.
‘Quantum wavefront interference.’
The Eternal Now of our universe is a collapsing quantum wavefront. As particles time-displaced into the past unevenly interact with particles time-displaced into the future, we experience the forward motion of time. As everyone knows, this phenomenon is altered by approaching 0º Kelvin, entering ultra-dense gravitational wells such as a star or black hole, or by mucking about at relativistic speeds. One way to create an anti-time explosion is by placing a shunt between particles with opposing charges.
‘Oasis, please tell me this pod has temporal sensors.’
‘Unable to comply.’
‘Calculate quantum cascade failure at point of ignition.’
‘Please provide system with relevant peer-reviewed research and restate request.’
‘Oh, goodness gracious!’
The pilot flumped in front of the main terminal, splashing fresh goo across the panel, and extended all but two tentacles into the interface. All five cortical nodes focussed on acquiring as much information on particle physics and quantum mechanics as possible. Both proboscises twitched with anxiety.
A subliminal tremble joined the resonating hull.
‘Time’s up. Oasis. Charge engines creating as many Fermion particles as possible: Use fusion generators to annihilate charge +1 or charge -1 particles. Chop-chop!’
The tremble fell half an octave, changing scales and elevating discordance.
‘Shockwave gaining. Plasma flow interference.’
‘Just keep those charge 0 particles pouring out, would you?’
‘Exceeding engine design limitations. Pod design parameters insufficient.’
‘Then leak them out! I guess we shall see just how this experiment goes. Begin full sensor record of subatomic particle interactions and generate ontological matrices.’
‘Let’s just hope this doesn’t create a secondary interplanetary disaster.’
‘Engine at maximum output. Shockwave impact in 5 seconds.’
The pilot plopped into the puddle of strawberry goo in the seat and slapped the emergency button for the second time today. Strawberry foam exploding into the cabin was complimented with the pod’s resonating frequencies converging back to a perfect 5th.
‘I never want to smell strawberries ever again!’
‘Request exceeds operational parameters.’
Like dropping a stone into a pond, Jindebarrah’s explosion sent ripples across the solar system; like a whirlpool, the star Vl’hurg maintained constant exertion on all its orbiting planets; like a small child falling into a fast-flowing stream, the pod was yanked from its position in spacetime.
The collapsing wavefront of the Eternal Now is quite similar to surfing the face of a wave but rather than on water, existence does it on time. The Jindebarrah experiment tried to, in effect, separate the oxygen molecules from the carbon molecules in the face of that wave: Avenda effectively created an aquaphobic bag around the pod.
‘Oasis. Condition report.’ The pilot’s tentacles had entwined through the restraints in preparation for the impact.
‘Unable to ascertain readings. Sensors nominal.’
“Unable to ascertain readings?”
‘Oh, can we not get rid of this bloody goo, please?’
A fine spray filled the cabin and the pilot extricated herself from the seat. The goo evaporated like dry ice. The whole lot was sucked through the air ducts.
‘Much better, thank-you.’
‘There was no impact. Has shielding activated?’
‘Correct. No inertial change was detected. That optional extra has not been fitted to this model.’
‘Engines operating at minimal output.’
The pilot sat back down. The fragrance of strawberries was replaced by the aroma of freshly ironed clothes.
The pod lost its aquaphobic bag.
‘WARNING. ERROR.WARNING. ERR – ’
‘Oasis! Engage all failsafes!’
‘Engaging failsafes. Engines restarting. Please remain seated.’
The pilot had no choice but to submit to exasperation and the quantum forces dislodging the pod through spacetime.
Her eye opened to the twinkling of stars beyond the porthole. All tentacles and both proboscises lay limp about her. Even the display flashed lights wearily. A large moon slowly floated into view.
‘Primary ontological matrix compared with latest starmap data indicates the western spiral arm of the galaxy. Currently in orbit of a biodiverse planet with communications satellites and one moon. Only one inhabited orbital station is present.’
‘We made orbit. Of a planet. In the something system.’
‘Scan for translink nodes.’
‘No such equipment is operational in this system. Orbiting satellites limited to a planetary communications network.’
‘What about this moon? Much easier to land there.’
‘Scans indicate derelict equipment.’
‘Oh, so not even a moon base.’
‘Sensors recorded a quantum energy variation interacting with the pod’s particle charge 0 output.’
‘Like a magnet.’
‘Let’s make contact. Identify source of variation and analyse their communication networks.’
‘Local technology is a haphazard blend of analogue and digital transmissions including a vast electrically-resistive wired network.’
‘Analysis indicates a scientific group CERN as originating the high energy phenomenon.’
The moon drifted out of view revealing a blue planet. Too far to see its orbiting satellites or lone inhabited spacestation. The pilot slumped.
‘Analyse language and social hierarchy.’
‘A variety of language forms are embedded within encrypted multilayered data packs. No functional hierarchy evident.’
‘Oh, bloody brilliant. The first octopod to travel through a timewarp and I end up at Planet Pea Soup of Obsolescence. Get me those CERN people. Perhaps they have a cup-and-string I can chat through!’
‘Formatting translation matrices. Connecting to head office.’
The automated recording began: ‘Greetings. You have reached CERN general enquiries. Please note that opening hours are from Monday to Friday, 8am to 5:45pm, and Saturdays from 8:30am to 5:15pm. Please press #1 for tour times. Please press #2 for general enquiries. Please press #3 for scientific enquiries. Please press #4 if you wish to speak to a member of our staff. Or, please hold the line to speak to an operator.’
The pilot’s tentacles throttled the previously round seat into an ellipsoid as synthesised music crackled over the connection.
A terse voice broke the tension: ‘Hello, who would you like to speak to?’
‘I’m after whoever headed that 6.5TeV energy burst. Whatsits.’
‘Do you mean Guilia Papotti?’
‘Oh, yes. Guilia. We met a conference last year. Delightful conversationalist. I desperately need to discuss some quantum interactions with my equipment.’
‘I’ll just see if she’s at her desk.’
The music played.
‘Oasis… what is a ‘Saturday’?’
‘Local time reference: base-60 seconds and minutes but 24 hours per day, 7-day weeks which bear no relation to 12-month years although one year is 365 days and 366 days each leap year.’
‘At least they know the difference between ‘orbits’ and ‘rotations’ – ’
A competent voice interjected: ‘Hello, this is Guilia.’
‘Oh, yes, hello Guilia. We met briefly at a conference last year. I’m sure you don’t remember but I’d like to confirm some results of my own experiment. Do you have a moment?’
‘Yes, of course. We’re a bit busy – the data is coming in. Very strange discrepancy between the ATLAS and CMOS detectors…’
‘I may be able to help you with that. I was theorising an interfering quantum wave of charge 0 particles.’
‘Wh, h-h-h, um, I was considering a massive lepton deviation.’
‘Seems we’re on the same page. Just wondering: when’s the next test?’
‘Not for a few months. By the way, what’s your name?’
‘Avenda. Thanks for conferring with me, Guilia. I must dash off and tend some blinking lights. May I contact you again at some point?’
‘Yes, of course. Glad I could help.’
‘Thanks again. Caio!’ Avenda terminated the connection.
‘Oasis: Charge engines and emit anti-leptons. Make it snappy!’
The engine hum was smooth as honey.
‘Resonance at 23%. 41%.’
The blue planet slurped across the porthole and the stars trickled away.
‘67%. 89%. Maximum output.’
As the subharmonic grew, the hull resonated to a cascading 6th mode. The fragrance of freshly ironed clothing made for a soothing ride. The pod flew up its quantum wake like a yo-yo back up its string.
The streaks across the porthole congealed into pinpoints, creating familiar constellations.
‘Sight for a sore eye! Translink nodes, thank-you.’
‘Node located. Incoming communication.’