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Breaking the Barrier

Omar Panderyn is, at the moment, strapped into the main command station chair. He appears to be reviewing the baseline telemetry for the test module.

Kinako comes drifting in from the crew compartment. “Kon’nichiwa, good afternoon, Panderyn-sama. You have been seated for some time, would you like to take a break for a stretch? Perhaps I could warm some stones to increase muscle flexibility?”

Maxwell comes floating in from the lab, and swings up to the ceiling from the door, as he seems weirdly fond of doing. There’s an Omar in a chair, and a Kinako trying to offer care to a potential patient.

“I really don’t want to waste any energy on stone warming right now, Doctor,” the station chief replies, his eyes not leaving the holodisplay in front of me. “Misters Maxwell and Tilsworth – do me a favor and review this data. Then give everyone a quick rundown on what to expect during this test run.”

Tilsworth adjusts his glasses and takes a long look at the data. “The data itself appears sound. If the unit operates as expected, once initiated the field will take a few moments to calibrate and once at the proper level the vessel will begin to accelerate to faster than light speeds. The acceleration in simulations has been very rapid, but the pilot should not feel it due to the field acting as a buffer between the vessel and the outside universe. Projections indicate it should reach a speed of 10C, perhaps a bit more.”

Kinako sighs quietly, and makes a note in her PDA, which is presumably tracking sedentary vs. activity time ratios for the denizens of the station, if one were close enough to peek. She shrugs, and then also drifts upwards, to an out-of-the-way portion of the ceiling. “Kon’nichiwa, good afternoon, Maxwell-san, Tilsworth-san.”

Maxwell stretches a bit, nodding along with the good doc’s projected results “That’s about the size of it, if everything goes to plan.” then nods to Kinako “Afternoon.”

Nya creeps her way in from the crew compartment, hugging closely to the wall in attempts to stay out of the way while listening. Sans earbuds, she is on the quieter side today, and settles for a hawk’s eye view, opposite Maxwell.

“Okay,” Panderyn says. “Thank you. And what are we calling our first faster-than-light test craft?”

Maurice enters from the airlock area decked out in his pilot get. The Texan glances around the room and its many faces. “Aint started yet has it?” He asks nobody in particular.

The station AI, Albert, helpfully announces: “I have labeled the vessel as Module 1 in my database. Should I update?”

“Given that this is groundbreaking territory, pushing the boundaries of science, I believe my suggestion would be the Discovery.” Tilsworth replies.

Maxwell nods “Sounds as good as any. Afternoon, Nya.”

A familiar male voice – Bob Busby, CEO of Spark – comes through across the speakers. “This rocket’s not making the discovery, man! You guys already did that. No, the name’s gotta mean somethin’. Gotta send a real message. I’m thinkin’…Regis.”

“Auspicious,” Kinako says, while bowing in polite greeting to people as they arrive, and arranges herself more comfortably(?) with her back against the ceiling, arm looped through a cargo net. She fishes a ubiquitous box of rice candies out of a pocket in her jumpsuit and makes the universal gesture of “anyone want some?” She cants her head at Busby’s speaker announcement. “Aah, who or what is ‘Regis,’ Busby-sama?”

“Alo,” Nya mouths, wiggling a set of fingers at Maxwell. A look of bemusement contorts her face in response to the CEO’s suggestion, clearly not getting the reference, either. What she does understand, though, is that the good doctor, Kinako, has procured more tasty rice snacks, and so flags her down with a little hand wave, miming a tossing gesture.

“Regis is the dearly departed so-called ‘Space Pope,'” Omar informs the group. “Not sure I’m all that keen on using this demonstration as a PR pitch to the Catholic Church.”

“Indeed.. given that there have been undercurrents of unrest among the zealots, it does seem that it would attract unwanted attention.” Tilsworth says.

Kinako thinks upon this for a long, long moment, as she takes a candy out of the package and sends it over to Nya. She seems to be struggling for the most diplomatic term. “Aah, -less- auspicious,” she finally says, adding, somewhat hastily, “I would ah, also not in the same vein suggest naming it after any other religious figure or convention? This is, as far as I know, a ah, -secular- program, yes?”

Maxwell waves for a candy as he looks thoughtful “Exploration?”

“Naw… ya’ll talkin about the shuttle’s name? Why the hell don’t ya’ll just ask Grange ta name the damn thing. He’s the poor bastard strapped into the damn thing.” Maurice says.

Another voice comes in over comms: “Grange here. I’m in position for launch aboard Discovery. Good name. Call it Regis and I hit the eject button.”

Nya’s eyes widen as Omar reboots her memory and she nods, giving her temple a good ‘thump’. Folding her legs, she props an elbow on knee and nestles her chin into her palm while the other hand extends in waiting for the candy’s landing. She chuckles softly at Grange’s transmission.

Busby huffs into his commlink: “Whatever, man. I know it’s just because you come from a long line of Protestants, Grange. Do what you gotta do, man.”

“Well there ya go. The Discovery.” Maurice chuckles after Busby’s pout. “Hey there Grange, Holton here, Godspeed and leave some records for the rest of us ta break.”

Kinako sends a candy over to Maxwell, by gently shaking one out of the box and then giving it a short tap with her palm to give it momentum. “Satsumaimo caramel,” she says, adding “Ah, sweet potato” as a clarifier. Grange’s comment causes her to cover her mouth with her hand and stifle a giggle. “I suppose the pilot has spoken,” she murmurs, before taking a deep, cleansing breath. “We sit among the stars, in the heavens themselves; we should be mindful and respectful that the entire universe surrounds us at this very moment.”

Tilsworth takes out his clipboard, pen at the ready as he watches the display screens in preparation for the test to commence.

“Spooling up to velocity,” Grange reports from Discovery. “Green across the board so far. Confirm, Ulm Station?”

Omar Panderyn motions for Tilsworth and Maxwell to approach and handle communications. “Your machine, your show, gentlemen.”

Maxwell pushes off the ceiling towards a suitable communication chair.

*Munch* The rice candy docks briefly in Nya’s palm before meeting its end. “And pray that soon, the far expanses will,” the space-bound botanist whispers and hops to join Kinako in gripping the cargo net. She hunkers down there, body tense, ears tuned to the sound of Tolliver’s voice.

Tilsworth floats a bit closer. “Would you care for the honors, Mr. Maxwell?”

Maurice’s eyes are glued upon the various screens pumping out data from the Discovery. His head gentely nods as he goes over the preflight check in his head. “Chompin at the bit.”

Maxwell nods to Tilsworth as he straps in to a communicatin chair. “Alright Grange, we’re ready to start things on our end. Instruments checking out on your end?”

“So far, so good,” Grange replies. “The drive unit is powering up. Should be fully charged in about three more minutes. Holding steady on velocity.”

Kinako reaches into her sleeve, unwinding the string of varicolored jade beads from around her wrist. She clicks them, one by one, between forefinger and thumb. “Itte irasshai (Go and come back),” she whispers, raking her teeth across her bottom lip.

About this time, CNB starts broadcasting live from near Mercury, tracking Discovery as the vessel proceeds with the test. Busby’s assistant alerts him to the coverage. “That’s wrong, man. They shouldn’t be out there. I didn’t invite media, man. Get their exec on the line!”

Tilsworth keeps a steady eye on the drive unit’s telemetry, then glances at the comm when Busby makes his statement. “By the stars… just what we need. Whoever leaked this to them should be thrown out the nearest airlock.” he says with a scowl.

Maxwell nods to Tilsworth with a bit of a grumble thrown in. “Can’t even test in open space without the media… Grange, how’re things looking?”

“Still green across the board, Ulm Station,” Grange replies. “Drive’s charged. Discovery is ready to commit. If they’re out here, might as well give them something to see, eh?”

Nya mumbles her own prayer after reaching under her neckline to liberate and clutch a little, rough-hewn, wooden cross. Her eyes close, listening…waiting…and forming the tiniest scowl as a bit of media drama already wriggles its way in.

“Shit aint like the real old days when it was just you and the saltflats.” Maurice smirks. “Go git it done.” He adds softly.

“Fumeiyona,” Kinako says, wincing as the situation starts unraveling about the edges. “…shameful behavior. Aaah, this is not auspicious at all…” Another wince, and then she looks away from the screen, squeezing her eyes shut and clicking her own prayer beads more rapidly through her fingers.

“Drive parameters are within specifications… power flow appears steady… field coils at proper attenuation…” Tilsworth says. “I believe we are, to turn a phrase, ready to light this candle.”

Omar Panderyn knits his brows, glancing toward the speaker after he hears Busby’s complaint. “If CNB knows about this test location, it’s a safe bet other people do too. We all sure about this?”

Maxwell nods “Putting it off won’t change the results. Just the PR.”

“I’m with the eggheads,” Grange offers over comms. “If anything, this means we need to hurry up already. Activating the Tilsworth-Cooke FTL drive in 3…2…1…” Silence as the Discovery’s telemetry simply ceases. The media holocams capture a “gulp” of purple-blue light as the speeding starship vanishes from scopes. The TC Drive has been activated for the first time. Mankind has exceeded the speed of light.

Maurice blinks a few times and looks freom the blank telemtry read outs to the blank media vids and lets out a long low breath. “….. huzzah?” He asks the room.

Click, click, click-click-clickclickclickclickclick. Beads clatter rapid fire between her fingers, pausing as Kinako opens one eye, cautiously. It is a long moment before she remembers to breathe. Opening the other eye, she gives questioning look to the team.

Tilsworth raises an eyebrow. “Strange that telemetry would cease… but perhaps the field is interfering with the carrier wave. A note for future trips to alter the comm system to transmit through the field.” he says as he takes furious notes.

Maxwell nods to Tilsworth “Quite…”

Nya pops open her eyes and chomps down on her lips, breath caught as Discovery disappears into unknown space and time. She slowly relinquishes her grip on her charm and the net, lips hesitantly twitching into a nervous grin.

The journey doesn’t last more than a few seconds, but certainly long enough to demonstrate the effectiveness of the drive. “Home again, home again,” comes the pilot’s voice over comms. Discovery drops back into our universe within close proximity to the CNB vessels. Unfortunately, the transition from FTL to sublight results in a forward discharge of volatile energy particles, like a shock wave blasting ahead of Grange’s ship. It tears the media ships apart, and the still decelerating Discovery slams through a cloud of wreckage that breaches the hull at the cockpit.

“Sweet fuck!” Maurice always one with a way for words yells out as the carnage happens. The Texan stares for a few moments longer and then pushes off towards the airlock. “Awww hell.. anyone else trained for zero-gee to the shuttle.” He snarls out behind him.

Tilsworth widens his eyes. “Dear Lord…” he says, starting for a few moments before closing his eyes and shaking his head.

“Iii-eeeeee!” In the enclosed space, from a throat that usually produces low and moderate tones, Kinako’s shriek of alarm is most likely a discomfiting chorus to the chaos erupting. She grabs a support bar and pulls herself across the room to follow Maurice, desperately collecting her composure along the way. “I have! I will get my kit, please prepare me a suit.”

“Discovery…to Ulm Station,” comes the voice of Tolliver Grange. “I’ve got…good news. And bad…news.”

Maxwell blinks a few times “…I think we’ve seen the bad news. What’s the good?”

Nya gapes, fish-like and speechless as words – in any language – simply won’t express. She waggles her head with uncertainty. “I…no. Some, but not good for out there…” Pressing her cross, in hand, to her lips, she pushes off the ceiling and into a communication chair, strapping in.

“Drive works,” Grange says. “Stable. Nice…work. Just hope…you can make another.” Telemetry shows the Discovery, along with the remnants of the media vessels, tumbling into Mercury’s gravity well. “On the…upside…I’ll be first…man on Mercury.”

Tilsworth lets out a few choice words. “Not if we can help it, Discovery.” he looks to Maxwell. “Try to bring up the backup comm link to the shuttle’s onboard computer. Let’s see if there are any maneuvering thrusters left that will still respond, if we can at least pull him into a parking orbit.”

Maxwell nods as he quickly starts to poke at controls in an attempt to set up the necessary linkages and hopefully get some orbiting action going.

Omar Panderyn stares at his hands for a few moments, then at the monitors. “He won’t have enough oxygen. You might be able to hold his orbit, but he won’t keep air. Certainly not long enough for us to get to Mercury. Not unless we’ve got a spare drive lying around that we can install in a shuttle in the next few minutes.”

Maurice glides through the airlock to the shuttle and begins the preflight. The Texan scowls as he tries to shave time off the process. “Sons of bitches. As useful as ticks on a flea’s ass. First amendment my ass.”

Kinako pulls herself over to the medical bay, pulling the emergency kits from the wall and using their momentum to propel her towards the airlock. After an end-over-end tumble, she snags a flight suit and starts working her way into it.

Nya grips the rim of her seat tightly, feeling rather out of place and momentarily useless in this world of pilotry and physics. Her head shakes morosely as she pulls her little, green cube from a pocket and stares at it. Even 100,000 algal cells wouldn’t produce enough O2 to compensate for Discovery’s predicament, thusly rendering any physical contributions of her work, thus far, pointless. “How long will it take Maurice to reach Discovery, if he can?”

“Can the pilot get up to speed again, man?” Busby asks over comms. “Y’know, fast enough to break gravity and, uh, maybe pop the TC Drive in the direction of Ulm Station? I mean, yeah, if he waits for us to get to him, he’s a corpsicle, man. But if he can make the jump to Ulm Station – without, y’know, blowing *you* up – maybe you can do something for him.”

Tilsworth accesses the main computer and brings up the drive’s status. “Possibly… if he still has flight control, and if the angle is adjusted accordingly…” he mutters, bringing out a slide rule and making some lightning fast calculations on paper. “If he adjusts course to 141 degrees by 34 degrees, we can activate the drive by computer with enough precision to send any potential backlash past the station and bring him to a stop close enough for the rescue shuttle to reach him. That is assuming that the drive has not suffered any damage we can not as of yet detect.”

Maxwell glances over to Tilsworth “Sounds like a better plan, alright. And if he can’t make the adjustments himself, we can probably do something from here… we probably should either way, might need some extra oxygen for the precision work…”

“Don’t have…much,” Grange states over comms. “Appreciate…the thought. But Discovery’s still in…debris cloud. Speed up…more damage. New…damage.”

Maurice finishes the preflight check and turns the intercom on. “We are all set to git out there.” He says. “Is he coming here or are we gonna go there?” He asks the higher ups.

Kinako fastens herself into her suit, secures the two aid kits, and starts strapping herself into the other seat in the shuttle.

Maxwell looks to Tilsworth “What do you think? Send them out to retrieve Grange and the drive if possible? I’d rather not lose either.”

“It is theoretically possible that when the drive activates, any debris inside the field should remain stationary… any outside should be repelled.” Tilswirth says. “We have little time to debate it…”

“I’m dead…if I do, if I don’t,” Grange replies. “Tell me…when ready. I’ll hit…button.”

Nya unbuckles herself from her current perch and performs a quick check of Ulm’s life support systems, gliding from console to console for the sake of keeping hands busy and mind in the game while those in better understanding and authority make their call.

Maurice looks over at Kinako gives her a firm nod. “Okay, he might be bringing some of that debris field with him. This could be hairy, but I can get us around the big stuff.” He informs her. “Ulm, y’all are gonna want to seal all the hatchways airlocks. If y’all have time, I’d sugest y’all suit up as well.”

Omar Panderyn tilts his head, considering: “Discovery’s damaged. Structural integrity is wildly suspect at this point. Can she take the stress of another jump?”

Kinako turns to Maurice, double-checking the fittings on her suit. “I am not afraid,” she says, with a modicum of confidence.

“I feel we have little choice, Mr. Panderyn.” Tilsworth says. “However, if performed correctly, the stress on the frame should be minimal.”

Maxwell nods “I wouldn’t reccomend it as an every day option… but this is no ordinary day. Bring her back, and brace for impacts.”

Nya nods, pushing away from the water filtration monitor and scrambling towards the lab compartment hatch to seal it first. “Good luck, and please, DO come back!”

“You heard them, Toll,” Omar confirms. “Go for activation.”

Over the comms, Tolliver Grange says, “Now…just hope…choose right one. Activating in…3…4…1…7…awww, screw it.” Again, Discovery disappears on the telemetry monitor. She reappears off to starboard moments later, the energy slough directed harmlessly away from Ulm Station. “Oh,” Grange says. “Much…better view.”

Kinako presses her back into the seat, and takes a shuddery breath. “Gyatei, gyatei, haragyatei, haraso-gyatei, boji sowaka,” she murmurs, just under her breath, over and over.

Maurice detaches the shuttle from the station and brings her around towards Discovery. “Hang in there Fastest Man Alive.”

Tilsworth breathes a bit easier as the craft successfully ‘slingshots’ to a position near the station. “So far so good..” he says, glancing at the status board. “Damned media… sticking their damned noses into things looking for that ‘exclusive scoop’.” he grumbles. “Like the paparazzi, public safety be damned if they get that picture.”

Grange passes out just after commenting on the view, so he’s unconscious when the shuttle from Ulm Station arrives to rescue him. In fact, he is comatose. And his appearance is radically different from just days earlier. His hair, the few tufts that remain of it, is shock white. His skin is so pale to be almost translucent, and freckled with liver spots. Alive, it seems, but aged decades by his experience aboard the Discovery.

Having had no time to don her suit after making a mad, zero-G ‘dash’ around the compartment, sealing airlocks, Nya is extremely relieved to see that – so far – they have not been blown into oblivion, but isn’t smiling yet. “They did pay with their lives,” she reminds, coming to rest alongside Tilsworth. “Though, I can only imagine how the media company will spin it, no?” Pursing her lips, she watches the board from over the senior scientist’s shoulder. “Praise be, Grange at least has a second chance at life – and the drive!”

Kinako carefully awaits the all clear; as soon as the ships are appropriately connected, she will lunge through with an oxygen distributor at the ready.

Maurice follows Kinako once he has ‘parked’ the shuttle near Discovery’s cockpit. The Texan attempts to extract the pilot from the striken craft.

Omar Panderyn looks toward Maxwell and Tilsworth. “Good work getting him home, gentlemen. And congratulations on a successful test. I can’t wait to see your report once all the telemetry’s reviewed.”

Grange is easily extracted from the cockpit of the Discovery. Now Vanguard recovery bots are detaching from Ulm Station to acquire the wreckage and the drive.

Tilsworth nods. “It will take some time to review, but the information should be invaluable to future tests.”

“Kamigami ni yotte!” Kinako blurts, as she sees the condition of the stricken pilot. That doesn’t stop muscle memory from kicking in, as she affixes the oxygenator over his mouth and nose, using the scanner in the glove in her free hand to take his vitals and adjust the instrument appropriately. After this is in place, she unravels a clinging shock blanket and wraps him carefully up in it. “Tolliver-san,” she murmurs as she works, regardless of whether or not he appears to be able to -hear- it, “You will stay with me, yes? Stay with me, so that you will be able to tell the tale.”

“Would’ve gone better if we called the goddamned thing Regis, man,” grumps Busby. “Signing off. Gotta talk to the lawyers about this CNB shit, man.”

First FTL test pilot announced

CAPE CANAVERAL, EARTH – The first pilot scheduled to test the new Tilsworth-Cooke faster-than-light drive is a man named Tolliver Grange.

Grange, with more than a decade of experience working for Spark and other aerotech companies, will try a new prototype vessel launching from an undisclosed location beyond Earth’s orbit.

The test is expected to take place sometime during the next two weeks, but officials aren’t giving more specifics due to concerns about terrorism and sabotage.

POPE DIES

VATICAN CITY, EARTH – Pope Regis I, who has overseen the Catholic church since 2537, died today at the age of 86.

The man who was born Orrin Cavini in Sicily became the most beloved pontiff of this age through a progressive agenda that pushed to end poverty and hunger, urged tolerance for other belief systems, and celebrated the prospect of discovering alien life among the stars.

Cardinals are expected to gather for a Papal conclave as the selection process starts for a new church leader.

Informal Presentation

Busby wanders into the lab wearing wrap-around pink shades and a plaid bathrobe over shorts, flip-flops, and a T-shirt that reads “MA HUMPS.” He finds a chair at one of the holotables and settles into it with a happy sigh.

Tilsworth is meanwhile standing near the holotable, a large sheaf of papers on a clipboard beside him, the last few pages of which he is scanning into the table’s interface.

Maxwell comes strolling in, with a friendly nod to Busby and the good doc. “Evening. Scanner’s free of gremlins today, I hope?”

“Got a memo from Omar, man,” Busby says, lacing his fingers together as he kicks a leg over an arm of his chair. “You’ve got good news, right? Lay it on me, man.”

Tilsworth chuckles to Maxwell. “I haven’t seen any cute furry animals or scaly green monsters, so I believe we are gremlin free.” he says, the last page scanned in as he starts up the holo-presentation. “I do hope it is good news in your eyes, Mr. Busby. Although we do not have a physical product yet, the theoretical components are well tested and proven at this point.”

Maxwell stretches a bit. “Good, good. Be a lousy time for normally reliable tech to go pear shaped.”

Busby smiles lazily. “Cool, man, cool. Okay, so explain the theory, man. But, y’know, pretend you’re explaining it to a dude who may or may not be tripping on a tasty batch of Lunar City hydro-chronic.”

Tilsworth adjusts his glasses a bit. “I’ll do my best, young man, but do please stop me if I start to ramble.” he says with a smile, and brings up the first page of the presentation. “The basic theory is that the energy field the unit generates serves the purpose of ‘detaching’ the ship and the space contained within the field from the rest of the universe. It is best envisioned as a ‘frictionless barrier’ that becomes a self-contained entity. Once this ‘bubble’ is floating free of the universe, the standard propulsion units of the ship can push this bubble as fast as the available power to the engines and the field permits. The more power to the field, the greater the ‘detachment’, and thus the less ‘friction’ encountered.”

Maxwell nods. “Some of the more religious folks are going to think we’re playing god by creating tiny universes at will.”

“Okay, okay,” the Spark CEO replies. “I don’t mind pissing off the zealots, man. I’ll eat that free advertising for breakfast. And a snack. Although what I really want is a fluffy meringue pie. Anyway. How can we fuck it up? Where does it go wrong? What’s the downside, man?”

“There is a potential, rather slim, that the newly created universe begins to exponentially increase in size to potentially replace this one. However as my young friend here has pointed out, at least we would be in charge of the new one.” Tilsworth says with a chuckle. “However, I must stress this is a very remote theoretical possibility and with sufficient auxillary systems and redundacies, it could likely be eliminated completely from the prototype unit.”

Maxwell nods. “It’s not an in charge situation I particularly want, really. Just an outside chance that we need to keep an eye on while figuring out the hardware.”

Busby nods. “So what do you need for testing?”

Tilsworth switches to the next page of the presentation. “Here are the basic components of the system. Power for the system is generated from a pair of fusion reactors. My current parameters utilize a pair of GE HydroGen Mark II fusion reactors with an output of 25 gigawatts each. The resulting high energy plasma generated by the reaction is fed into a Siemens CP-135 power conversion relay. The resulting focused plasma stream is fed through a pair of GE Magnafeed magnetic wave guides that feed two arrays each consisting of 25 Siemens RD-250 Radial Generator coils. With these physical components in the simulation, the drive can achieve 10 times the speed of light. I propose to construct the prototype unit we acquire these components as soon as possible for assembly into a test vehicle.”

Maxwell nods. “Should be a fun start, certainly.”

“All right, man,” Busby says. “Won’t be cheap, but, shit, nothin’ worth it ever is.”

Tilsworth nods. “In addition we would need four Honeywell MX-427 fusion rocket engines for the standard propulsion system of the vehicle. In addition to the standard construction materials to build the frame in which these components will be installed.” the old scientist says. “Once the vehicle is complete, we can transport it to a spot near Mercury’s orbit to be as far away from prying eyes as possible to the initial live tests. I have already met our test pilot and he appears quite capable, perhaps even eager.”

Busby headtilts. “Oh, yeah, well, man, we’re gonna need more than one test pilot, don’t ya think, man? I mean, seriously. Shit’s gonna go sideways.”

Maxwell nods. “Interesting fellow. Definitely eager for his part to come.”

“It is my sincere hope that we do not encounter serious adversity during the initial tests.” Tilsworth says. “However, planning for such an occurrence is a necessity, and I have some ideas for safety factors.”

“Okay, man,” Busby says, getting to his feet. He runs a hand through his hair, rubs the other on his stomach, and then says, “Good work. Let’s do this again when you’re ready to fling the monkey. I want pie, man.” He smacks his lips and wanders out of the lab. Apparently, the meeting is over.

Maxwell stretches a bit more. “Alright. Let’s get back upstairs soon as we can. Getting tired of all this pesky gravity.”

Tilsworth gathers up his papers. “Pie does sound rather good.” he observes. “YEs… I find I am leaning a bit too much on this cane now…”