“And so, this explains the mechanism by which the ship The Danegeld is powered. Our next lecture will move on to a more improved form of tachyon transmorgrophication that led to a greatly enhanced engine that in its final form will be used on Sunday’s launch. Any questions?” Professor Kagami looked out over the slightly confused group of students struggling to read the scattered notes he had written posted on the wall behind him. He had come a long way since working side by side with Dr. Rotcod in the early part of the century; much further then he wanted to have come.
A tentative hand headed for the ceiling, “Professor, even with the solution of how to achieve the speed,” started the hesitant student, “What made the trip bearable?”
Kagami sat on the stool to the left of the board he had been sketching on. “Who said it was bearable?” He smiled as he crossed his arms, “Can you imagine living the rest of your life in a tightly enclosed space with no real human contact on a trip that would last so long that by the time you reached your destination no one you ever knew would still be alive? I know I can’t, but those were not questions for the physicists, those were questions for the psychologists. That is an insightful question though, because it shows that you’re looking towards the global issues of the trip that need consideration. It is not just a space probe we are sending out; it is a fellow human being.”
The student feeling a little less hesitant raised his hand again, “So what about now? If we have increased the efficiency of the propulsion mechanism, is it a more bearable trip?” The rest of the class was too busy trying to decipher Kagami’s notes and diagram on the board to care about the philosophical discussion.
The professor crossed his arms, this was not the block of instruction for this topic, that was after propulsion systems, “In several ways, yes. Since the trip will be considerably shorter, but the same mechanisms are at work for the pilot.” That was a joke, the person on board did nothing to steer the ship but rather was just along for the ride. “We’ll get into that later; right now we’re discussing the initial forays into trans-light speed travel.”
“But, Professor,” the student interrupted, “Why are we sending two ships now, when before we sent only the one?” He seemed emboldened by Kagami’s discomfort on the subject.
The rattled professor stood and scanned the room; several students had stopped writing and looked up from their notes. Interest in the questions was growing. “The problem of return communications from the ship presented a problem. We’re scheduled to go into that one this afternoon. Even with laser-enabled comms, the transmissions take longer to reach either point, earth or the ship, and then it did for the ship to reach where it was when it sent the transmission. This was less a problem for the ship then the master station, because of the relativity aspect of the time that passes. At the time of the initial launch, it was the most advanced system of propulsion and of communication. Now we have both, our delivery systems are better, so is our thinking about how to use them.” This was at least part of the reason. While Kagami knew more, this was not the time or place to debate the merits of the system.
He stood from the stool and walked to the table to review his notes. He had the syllabus memorized, but glanced over the course roster to recall the name of the inquisitive student. “As I just alluded to, when we return from lunch, we will discuss communication systems. Those systems have no internal mechanisms for propulsion, but still rely on many aspects that are similar. Mr. Speil, if you have a moment, please. The rest of you may be dismissed until we begin again.” Without looking up, Kagami gathered his papers and headed for the door closest to his office.
Behind him, Speil completed a similar action. Several students glanced his way as they gathered their own belongings. Most simply went about the motions and headed for the door. No one would have signed up for this intense series of courses unless they were dedicated to learning and wanting to work on the project, but most felt that the best course of action was to just ride the wave of conformity. There was enough need for holistic engineers of every category, no need to stick out and risk losing the opportunity of a lifetime. Speil wondered himself if he had made a mistake.
The office looked like a typical engineer’s office. Stacks of papers, rolls of plans and boxes lay on every flat surface. A typically hard, difficult to kill plant peeked its half-dead leaves from one side of the bookcase opposite the door. The shelves were full of books on science, math, and technology subjects. On the floor next to it was a stack of student theses that would not fit on the next bookshelf over that was filled with the same green bound books with tired gold lettering. The only differences were the titles and the thickness. The university press enjoyed uniformity.
On the adjacent wall was yet another bookshelf behind three chairs. In addition to textbooks, this one contained the truly personal collection of the professor. It was here that Kagami hid his collection of Adams, Michener, Dekker, Cussler, Lewis and Clarke as well as the more expected titles by Faulkner, Kipling, Bacon and Borges.
A thick layer of dust covered the frames of pictures, certificates and plaques on the walls. In the center of the wall along the door was a signed and numbered photograph that included Kagami, Rotcod, and Allman. Clearly, it was an important memory and prized possession. Several papers on the desk rustled but did not fall off as Kagami briskly walked past them to the chair behind the desk. The groaning of springs and hiss of air escaping the padding as he plopped himself down greeted Speil as he walked in. Kagami put his books and papers down, and signaled for Speil to be seated.
Not waiting for him to sit, Kagami started, “Every class of mine you’re in, you have asked questions that are off target and are more appropriate in other classes. Sometimes the questions are even beyond the subject matter of all your classes. Do you do this to other professors as well?”
Keeping eye contact with Kagami, Speil felt the chair as he sat down, “Uh… yeah, uh, yes, sir, I do. The whole point of holistic engineering is to see how everything ties together. Each piece of the puzzle affects the next…” he trailed off because Kagami held up a hand to stop him. A sinking feeling entered his stomach; fear that he was about to get a formal reprimand or worse, removed from the program.
“Is that what it is to you? A puzzle? A game? Just an interesting way to pass the time: Something to fill in between football games and frat parties?”
“No, no, sir.” As he fidgeted in the seat, several papers fell off the arm of the chair next to him. “It’s not a game; it’s a challenge, an enigma wrapped in a dilemma. It’s poetry in action and a work of art…” again, Kagami stopped him with a raised hand.
“Which topic is your favorite?”
A confused look came on Speil’s face, “I like them all equally. None of them sticks out as being more interesting or important than the others.”
“Alright then, which holistic subject do you find the most boring?” Kagami fought to keep a smile from creeping across his face. Speil may be the one he had been trying to locate for quite some time.
“None, they’re all important, and I…”
“I didn’t say important, I said boring. You cannot be making all exceptional marks. One at least must be disliked.” Kagami knew what his grades were, but he had to find out if this was the one.
“Just because I didn’t do so well on the public financing part doesn’t mean it’s boring.” Had he talked with Speil’s Economics Instructor? Was that what this was about? “Cost-effectiveness is eventually the point of every project, but I don’t care about the political mumbo-jumbo that goes into the appropriations. You’ll see. As we get into the creative application section of economics, my grade will pick back up. And I fully expect it to not affect my grade point average, because I have been conducting experiments with astro-induction since high school. Next semester’s course load will pull up any negative marks from this semester.”
Inside Kagami was beaming; knowledge of not only what was going on, but also what was going to come next was excellent. “You don’t care how it gets paid for; you just want to get the most bangs for the buck?”
“Something like that.” Speil was thrown off, not knowing what was happening, or where his professor was headed. “But you didn’t bring me in here to talk about my grades. Just get it over with, if you want to kick me out of the program for being curious or looking ahead, I’ll just move on down the road. I’m going to be a holistic engineer whether you approve or not…”
This time Kagami stood to cut off Speil’s words. He walked to the bookcase to his right and started thumbing through a stack of papers. Speil knocked over some more papers as he stood and turned to follow Kagami. Having found what he was looking for, Kagami tugged to pull out a thin, yellowing paper, bound in a plastic folder. A pleased smile crossed his lips as he handed it to Speil. “Read this, I’ll be right back.”
Speil took the report and watched the professor leave the office. As the door clicked closed, the spell broke, and Speil looked at the report. It was Kagami and Rotcod’s first collaborative effort. It pre-dated the holistic engineering program as well as the Allman Initiative; in fact, it was the start of both. This was the holy grail of every nerd enrolled at Dillard University; it described the need for, and set up the background for what became holistic engineering.
Everyone in the program had read this file. Most had a copy. Speil had both an electronic copy and a hardback bound edition of this very version. At least that is what the person online that sold it to him had told him it was. The coffee cup stain and faded printing on the cover was the same, so at least so far the two copies were the same. Unsure what he was supposed to get from it, Speil flipped open the report and found out immediately.
Only the odd numbered pages had been copied. This was not unusual, since the university press, in their push for uniformity, required technical papers and theses to only be printed on one side of the page. The backside of the pages had many hand-written notes. Two different people contributed based on a comparison of the handwriting, Kagami’s was easy to spot, but the second was unknown. Could it be Rotcod’s?
On a hunch, he flipped to page forty-two. In his copy, there was a strange blue line on this page that seemed out of place for many reasons. Mostly because one did not expect to find blue ink in a publication, and the only lines drawn should be in figures or tables, not over text. Sure enough, the line was there. Gently he turned the page and there on the back, was the sketch, sketches even.
The sketches showed the plan, and the reason for the plan. The line that bled through the page to the front was a timeline that connected the idea with the result. The line was like the dash on a tombstone between the year of birth and the year of death. One simple line, so easy to draw, that was symbolic of so much.
Near the top was the first diverging line, it connected to a circle that read, “Combined effort—get a second.” Below that on the opposite side was a circle in which were the words, “get funded” with smaller lines that read, “Admirable goal,” “Public support,” and “Government Grant!”
On the first side, further down, the next circle read, “Build, test and launch,” followed by another that read, “Public support wanes, evaluate next attempt and repeat.” The bottom of the line read simply, “Immortality.”
Absentmindedly, Speil turned the page, there was more. The sketch was described. Rotcod and Kagami had been working on a new form of transportation but travel was not their goal. The goal had always been to live forever, not in the figurative manner that the notoriety of the Allman Initiative had given its creators. Rather the goal was to literally live forever, like Allman.
On board the Danegeld, Allman wondered why he was on board the Danegeld. Not because he wanted to be somewhere else, but because he was wondering, what had the ship been named after. Lucky for him, he had an extensive database full of every piece of useful and useless information readily available. He had everything at his fingertips, except his toothbrush. Maybe Danegeld meant toothbrush-free.
He floated over to his input center, and started a search. It came back quickly with two categories, one was ancient literature, and the other was even older European history. It was certainly easier than finding his toothbrush.
Literature appealed to Allman tonight, some light reading to put him in the mood to go to bed. A poem by Rudyard Kipling filled the monitor. Six stanzas, twenty-four lines, and when he finished Allman was no closer to understanding why he rode the Danegeld. When once you paid the Danegeld, you never lose the Dane? Allman was no more Danish then he was Spanish, or Japanese. And he was not being paid anything, because he had no need for money in a ship hurling at near the speed of light towards an unknown planet around a distant lonely star with no one else around to talk with, work with, play with, or pay.
A disgusted Allman pushed away from the console then off the wall into the sleeping compartment. A nearly silent metallic click echoed in the now empty room as a toothbrush appeared near the chronometers.
The lights flickered for a brief second, but Allman ignored them. They did that from time to time, though it had become a more frequent occurrence lately. Allman reached for his makeshift screwdriver. He had not heard the aether sounds for quite some time. Why did he bother to screw the panel back down any more? He first noticed it because it had been unscrewed. It was relaxing to rest and hear the noise of the ship as he hurled itself along.
Lying on the floor was hard in zero gravity. For all Allman knew, it could be the ceiling he was lying on, but it was just as hard. He removed the panel and paused, if more of these wires were removed, he might be able to slip in and wedge himself to keep from moving. He pushed aside the wires and crawled in.
The pleasing sound of the aether against the hull lulled Allman into a relaxed, almost meditative state. It never took long for him to enjoy this experience. However, this time he did not drift off to sleep. The engines stopped. Ominous silence amplified the tinkling of the aether.
Before he could extract himself from his precarious position, the lights went out completely. This had never happened before. This was bad.
The sound the aether made resembled muffled rain on a tin roof. That did not do it justice though. It was more of a tinkling sound, almost a pleasant noise as if the aether wanted to be slammed into the ship’s hull at 146,000 miles an hour. Allman listened more intently. There was nothing else to do since the engines and the lights had gone off.
To Allman’s knowledge, which in this case was to say to Allman’s database’s knowledge, no one had ever traveled at the speed he was traveling now. No one knew what the aether was because no one knew that it existed to look for it. It was only known to Allman, kind of. He had never seen it, but believed in it. Maybe it was some space debris or solar wind, or tachyons that were just too slow.
He had named it after what the medieval people had called the space beyond the atmosphere back in the day the earth was still the center of the universe. Time was the one thing Allman had plenty of, so he had researched it to that extent. When everything else was ruled out whatever was left had to be the answer.
Allman opened his eyes. He had not realized they were closed. The pitch-black ship looked like the inside of his eyelids. The aether noises had become less muffled without the engine noise to overpower it, but they suddenly got much more muffled then even with the engines running. The blackness in front of Allman glowed blue, and a small globe began to swell. To his amazement, it began to focus until he was able to see what looked like water rushing along before him. He could see the white caps of the waves. He blinked, hard, but the image was still there. He moved his head so that he could shake it, as if to clear cobwebs.
As he shifted his position, the globe disappeared. He snapped his head back. A transparent version appeared. Slowly moving back to his original position, the rushing water re-solidified and returned to its full self.
Over the next minute, he experimented with how far his head could move to still see what he now imagined was the Pacific Ocean. There was no land mass or life form to base this decision on, but it seemed to be peaceful and endless. Just as Allman remembered it from when he had last seen it. After a short time, he had a well-defined limit through which he would be able to see the globe. Having established those limits, he began concentrating on the scenery.
Initially it seemed as if the view was rushing below. Almost as if Allman were a bird and flying not far from the surface. Holding his head still but shifting his eyes made a small effect on the scene, but with some concentration on changing directions the scene shifted. He found that he was able to control what he was seeing. Pan left, zoom right, speed up, slow down. While squinting, he moved closer, then further away, back out, a much more global view, or down to a single drop of water. Now it was exactly like flying, but even better. The complete view was at his beck and call. Where they went, how fast they went there and how close he was to the view. On the far horizon what could only be a landmass appeared. Now he would get to the bottom of where he was.
With a jolt, the engines fired back up, the lights came back on, and Allman’s globe disappeared. Or was his mind just playing tricks on him like his ears? His ears must be playing with him because he heard a noise behind the wall to his rear. That had to be an external wall of the ship. What was Allman’s world coming too?
The backs of the next pages described in more detail the steps of the sketch. Speil was engrossed in reading them when Kagami came back in with a laptop and a notepad. Speil looked up but went back to reading when he saw the professor cleaning a desk corner and setting up the laptop.
“I see you found it,” Started Kagami, as the computer booted. “Something told me you might.”
Speil looked up and closed the paper with his finger marking his place. “So where is headed? Allman, is his ship just adrift aimlessly?”
A chuckle emanated from Kagami’s moth, “No, he’s really headed for the first extra-galactic planet we found. It just wasn’t the closest, or the easiest to reach, or the wisest use of resources. At least not looking back from this side of the project.
“It truly was just the best ‘common goal’ we could rally the rest of the planet around. One day the Danegeld may make it to the planet we now know is as desolate as Venus is. We still get real time information on the mission. He is scheduled to go into orbit when he arrives, and that orbit will last until it degrades. Allman will run experiments from orbit, and send data back. When he finally dies, the database will wipe itself clean as it cleans itself of him and he will wake up thinking he just arrived and start the experiments all over. One big, long, déjà vu moment. A long journey’s day into night.”
As Kagami’s words bounced off the walls and died, he took a breath, scared to let it out. Would Speil notice it? Was he the one? Could the search be over and the next step be taken?
“There aren’t enough experiments and tests to run a whole lifetime, if there were he’d have had to known or be sent faster. Anything. He had to believe he had a finite amount of time in orbit. Did he know he would die there?”
So, he picked up the clue, but did he catch the unspoken secret? “The real beauty is that there IS a whole lifetime of experiments that can be done. He didn’t know them all, but the computer had them programmed. Over the years as we came up with more ideas, we embedded more hidden parts in the uploads. The number was only limited by the equipment we had at the time. The sensor arrays and probes can’t do all the things our sensors and probes can do now, but there is no way to upgrade them. There is still a huge amount of data to collect and even the latest technology won’t help us find it out faster unless we can get it there. That’s what I’m working toward, and that’s where you come in.”
Speil felt his hands shaking, so he firmly pressed them down on his legs. They had discussed this just last night in the dormitory’s common room. Even at that speed, it was bound to take too long. Allman would die, how would they get over that? And Kagami opened the door. Before he could have any more second thoughts he blurted out, “How do you keep him alive?”
A smile crept across the professor’s face. He caught it, he had thought about it, and Speil was the one to move forward with. Kagami had already reviewed his coursework. He already had a bachelor’s degree majoring in mathematics and physics, plus two master’s degrees in biomedical engineering and climatology. If he had applied the credits, he would have had a minor in history, geography, and economics, but then again, an overabundance of work was what it took to become a holistic engineer—multiple disciplinary learning was quintessential to even comprehending the syllabi of the courses. The classes themselves were a snap compared to the lead in. The ease with which Speil learned was due to the overachievements in getting here. Most holistic engineers not only remained more focused on one or two areas of the field, but came into the program directly after finishing first a single major bachelor and a second field master’s degree. The doctoral level program was difficult to get into, and not only were most students turned down multiple times; it took years of additional study to be selected. Most were selected on their third application. The average number of years between the start of schooling and entrance in the program was 13, with at least four years of work in the field. Speil brought down the average because he had nine years.
The professor continued smiling as he walked around the desk to the bookshelf behind Speil. He selected two books; both were old, out of print, and worn out from re-reading. “That answer is much easier then you think, but we won’t start out there. As of now, you are to become my protégé and I your mentor. In reality, the two of us will begin working on the next method that will be as controversial as Allman was when it began. Some even call it heretical to think of. Take these two books and read them tonight. We start in the morning.”
Speil took the books the professor handed him, A Briefer History of Time by one of the greatest minds in physics, and The Weight of Glory by someone he had never heard of. Clearly, he could see that the most important pages were marked with bits of paper. As he turned to walk out the door, Kagami took the first paper from him.
“This is the tougher one to figure out. We begin work on our own tomorrow. Get a good night sleep, you’ll need it.”
The sun rose on the overdeveloped campus as it did every day. The silent exterior of the building belied the waking giant inside. The pleasing warmth of the rising sun began to slowly burn off the damp chill of the dark night. There was no such gentle prologue to the ideas bouncing between Kagami and Speil inside the brick buildings.
“The point is that quantum theory of gravity only came about when it was understood how to overcome Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle because of the pairs of particles and anti-particles in a given volume of vacuum. Measuring the particles to determine where they are affects their paths and changes when they’ll get there. If it were empty, the electromagnetic and gravitational fields would have to be zero, as would be both its value and its rate of change. Clearly that’s the case.”
Kagami shook his head, but smiled while he did it, “The minimum amount of uncertainty that must be present can be measured by the changes in the energy of the electron field. It’s the remote ear listening to see if the tree falling with no one around makes a noise. The presence of the detector is included in the computation of the location and velocity of the particles and the anti-particles. Quite simply, they’re there. We know it, and we can find them.” He looked at a dazed and confused student standing near the whiteboard with a handful of colored markers and a full page of convoluted and perplexed set of sketches and formulae.
“But, that’s…the intent of what you’re saying, the impacts, it borders on heresy. Who else have you shown this to?” Speil would not take his eyes off the board. His eyes looked for a math error that was not there.
“I have shown it to a whole slew of other people who came to the same conclusion, sometimes sooner than others, other times sooner then some. Always the same, I’m a crackpot for suggesting it and should move on to something that will actually work. Same reaction, for over seven years. Even from Rotcod.” Kagami put down the marker he had been using and stepped back from the board. The board was wired back into his laptop, so anything they wrote on it was saved for future reference. One never could tell when inspiration, genius or math error may hit.
In a contemplative manner, Speil continued to review the board. Absentmindedly he picked up the marker and began to write his own formula and calculate. Kagami smiled as he watched. What had been written on the board had very specifically left out what Speil was now drawing. He had certainly picked the right student. “What about this, then, sir?” Speil asked before his hand stopped.
Kagami put his hand on Speil’s shoulder, “Cut out the ‘sir’ and don’t worry about the formalities. Today you have become if not an equal, a peer. That,” he pointed at the board, “is exactly what I was getting at. No one else agrees with me, but it is time to make them see. Free swim is over, from here, we dive deep.
“String theory shows us multiple dimensions, most of which we cannot see or measure. Why is that?”
“That’s easy; the dimensions are too distant to comprehend. If you look at a two dimensional object far enough away you lose perspective of one of the dimensions.” Speil held up the marker, “Like this marker, for example. It has two dimensions, length and width, but if we look at the marker on the other side of the room,” he pointed across the room, “the length is so much greater than the width, and as the distance to width dimension becomes too great, it can be considered to have only the length dimension relative to our position.”
“Exactly, and the two are the same size, but the one closer to us appears to be bigger, right?”
“Uh…yeah,” Speil added hesitantly. “Because it appears to have more dimensions?”
“Yes and no. It has the same dimensions, but its relative position to us is close enough to discern more dimensions. If we could look at a marker close enough to ‘see’ the fourth through tenth dimensions it would appear even bigger. But what if we could keep both markers the same size, and fit the closer one into the further one?”
“When we got close enough the dimensions of the other would appear or disappear depending on which marker you view the activity from.”
“But if we could keep our dimensional awareness of the one without adding a dimensional awareness of the other and slipped the ‘larger’ one into the ‘smaller’ one, then what?”
After a slight pause, he answered, “Then we get something bigger on the inside then we have on the outside. The further you go in, the more you find. Then since the particle/anti-particle cancellation occurs on a microscopic scale in an almost instantaneous fashion, we could put something big enough to hold something into a microscopic particle and make it travel from where it is to where it is needed to cancel out the anti-particle. You’re not looking to find a better way to move the next Allman; you’re finding a better way to move anyone.”
As he looked at the professor, Kagami answered with merely a smile. “How far have you gotten with your figures?”
Kagami waved at a stack of books on the next table about a half-foot high. “This far. It is your light reading while I take care of the paperwork to ‘finish’ your degree work. By the end of the week, you will have finished that stack and your coursework. After one day of rest, we begin the next once in a lifetime project.” To himself he thought that finally, immortality is within reach.
Speil answered by simply walking over to the table and opening the first book. “The journey of a thousand light-years begins with a single step, right?