Sunday, May 3, 2009

Beyond the Stars (Part 1 of 2)

[Do you believe time travel is possible, Dear Reader? If so, then you may consider that this reporter heard a version of the following tale early in the twentieth century. If you believe that time travel is a scientific impossibility...well, you may not believe any of the scientific advances described below. In that case, I hope you consider the following a tale of Speculative Fiction, and enjoy it accordingly. - RJ]

Jackie stood at the water’s edge and looked out. “What’s over there, mummy?” he asked, pointing away from Cape Wrath, at the horizon and the speck of land just visible. Jackie was six and curious about such things.

“That is another land,” she replied, “called Winterfell.”

“Can we go there?”

“Perhaps some day, but not now. It is very far away.” They had come to Cape Wrath on holiday, one that they couldn’t really afford, but was desperately needed after Jackie’s father died. The cold weather and incessant wind ensured their privacy. Cape Wrath in early spring was cheap for a reason.

The boy looked disappointed for a moment, and then it passed. His curiosity whetted, he asked, “What’s after that?”

“I…I do not know. Another land, perhaps.”

He looked into the sky. “If you go up, what comes next?”

She could see this going on forever. “The moon comes next. You can see the moon because it is so big – bigger than all of Caledon – even though it is far away.”

“After that?”

“Then come other planets, and then the stars.”

“And what comes after the stars?”

She ruffled his hair. “After the stars there is only God. He watches over the stars and the planets and the moon and Caledon and us. Okay?”

“Okay.” He was silent for a moment. “That’s where da is, then? Past the stars, with God?”

She was surprised that he made the connection with the comforting words of the priest at the funeral. She nodded. “Yes, that is where your da is. He is with God, which means he is far away from us.” The grief that was never far away threatened to resurface. She forced it back to its hiding place. “Come now, we have been out in the wind for over an hour. We need to get you back inside where it is warm and calm.”

Jackie trudged behind his mother as they made their way to their rental cottage. Periodically he would look up at the sky.

* * *

“Are you sure ye want to do this, Jack?” Angus McFinn asked. McFinn, a beefy Babbager, was Jack Brooke’s chief mechanic, and had been with Jack since the beginning.

“You know I do, Angus. All systems ready?” The mechanic nodded.

When Jack was in school, he had shown an engineer’s knack for designing and building propulsive mechanisms and a dreamer’s knack for devising new ways to use his inventions. Eventually, Jack had joined forces with some like-minded individuals who believed that the combination of steam turbines and a high degree of efficiency in converting steam pressure into motion would allow mankind to achieve one of its greatest dreams: to escape the chains of the Earth and visit other worlds. Over the years, while Jack’s contemporaries worked on variations on this theme with some success – the first launch into space, the Moon landing, the discovery of Cavorite, which greatly simplified some of the travel issues – and some failures – the catastrophic hull failure that stranded three travelers on the surface of the Moon, the failure of the oxygen recycling system on the second trip to Mars, and a series of rockets that rose several miles but could not escape further, returning to Earth at high velocity – Jack had embraced an entirely different approach. He posited that a sufficiently strong Tesla field could move an object, molecule by molecule, across a distance of arbitrary length.

From that simple idea, it took Jack the better part of two decades to reach today’s test. He apprenticed with some of the leading scientists of the day before setting out on his own. Several key inventions gave him a steady income that allowed him the freedom to work on his magnum opus. He started with inanimate objects and separate Tesla fields a few meters apart, eventually graduating to teleporting animals distances of several miles. The next problem was determining how to move the Tesla field along with the object – making the field self-contained, so that the object could arrive where no field previously existed. Jack then tested the self-contained unit himself, again over Angus’s objections, and surprised a Chinese farmer one afternoon in 1927. All this time, the teams using propulsive units had crowed their triumphs while Jack continued his secretive approach. Angus was the only person who knew the gamut of Jack’s work.

Today that would change. Rather than demonstrate the device publicly by moving someone a few feet, or a few miles, or even to the Moon and back – the concept was new, but the destinations were not – Jack would go beyond the farthest stars, to the edge of the universe, and back. Thus convincing the public of the efficacy and safety of the device, he would allow other scientists to make the same voyage. Only then would Jack rest, and bask in the glory that had been denied him for these many years.

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