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Warp Speed: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Friday, June 25, 2004 23:58 EDT



    It took almost all of the time we had left to prep the probe for warp since Tabitha was out of propellant and had to use the crawl, grab, and tether method. Tabitha looked at her DCM and whistled.

    “Cutting it close, Anson. I have about sixty minutes of air left. How are you doing?”

    “Not much less. I have about fifty-nine. My body weight is more than yours. No matter, we’re about ready to fire this thing. Jim you got those last calculations completed?” I broadcast over the makeshift communications network.

    “Here comes, Anson. Gee zero one is zero point zero zero zero one seven. Copy that?”

    “Roger Jim. Gee zero one is zero point zero zero zero one seven. Go next sequence.”

    “Gee zero three is zero point zero zero zero zero zero zero zero six zero one two five.”

    “Got it. Gee zero three is zero point zero zero zero zero zero zero zero six zero one two five. Next sequence.” This continued for about seven more sequences. We were rewriting our gravitational metric for an inward travel vector. Jim had – in just a few minutes - completed calculations that had taken mankind millions of years to achieve. He should have gotten accepted to MIT, Princeton, Harvard, or Yale. He didn’t get a scholarship and he sure couldn’t afford it. Neither could I. We were both products of the state university system. That’s okay. We went to the Harvard Karate Open two years ago and put a couple of those Ivy League geeks in the emergency room. Yeah I know, karate is for self-defense and self-defense only. We both had axes to grind. We felt both better and worse afterwards. We never acted like that again and we sent cards to the guys we had fought. I think we both matured some because of that tournament. Besides none of those guys were even close to warping space. We, were damn sure going to give it the old state college try.

    “Okay, Anson. That’s it. All that’s left is hitting the little red button.” Jim said.

    “I hope our numbers are right, Jim.”

    “Well, you were right about the frame dragging due to Earth’s rotation causing position errors mostly along the surface. My calculations suggest maximum x and y position uncertainty of more than five kilometers, but errors in the z direction are only about two meters. And if you come out of warp just a couple of meters low you want have that deep of a hole to crawl out of. And if you’re high, that won’t be too far to fall.”

    “You guys better be waiting on us in New Mexico when we get there.” I told him.

    We had decided to try and warp to the desert in case something went wrong we would probably be the only ones killed. Jim, of course, was kidding. There really is no red button on the probe. The sequence is automated and initiated either from the GUI interface or the uplink from Earth. Tabitha and I decide to do the initiation sequence ourselves. The only thing to do now was wait for New Mexico to roll up underneath us. According to Houston that would be in about fifteen minutes.

    “Tabitha, are you ready for this?” I asked her. I touched her helmet and looked at her.

    “Just as soon as New Mexico rears its ugly head.” She laughed. “We’ll punch a hole in it.”

    “Jeeze! I hope not. The plan is to land gently,” I told her.

    “Anson. What about the atmosphere? What happens when we slam into it at the speed of light or however fast it will be?” She looked concerned.

    “We’ve talked about this a little before remember. General Relativity and Causality won’t allow anything to penetrate the forward and rearward portions of the warp bubble. We should be completely shielded.”

    “What about Earth?”

    “Well that’s why we’re aiming for the desert. The air is a little less dense and nobody lives there. Mostly, nobody lives there.”

    “Hal, this is Anson. Jim, Tabitha and I are go for the firing sequence. I can see the coast of Lower California,” I claimed.

    “Roger Anson. Good luck you guys. God speed. Hal out.”

    Jim piped up. “Good luck, you guys. See you soon. Anson, thanks for everything, you know?” He sounded sad.

    “I know, Jim. Don’t worry. It’s going to work.” I held Tabitha’s hand and depressed the warp sequence start command.

    “Warp sequence is go,” I said.

    “Jim, if we don’t make it tell my daughter and my parents that I love them!” Tabitha cried. Tears were slowly running down her cheeks. Tears were running down her cheeks!

    Then the communications went blank. I could see New Mexico rolling up beneath us, then Tabitha and I were in total darkness other than the GUI panel illumination.

    “It’ll be just a few more seconds before the ECCs are powered up completely. The bubble must be forming nicely,” I said as I surveyed the GUI panel. Then we were surrounded by a sphere of blue flashes of light.

    “When will we know if it worked - aheeey!” Tabitha screamed.

    The world got very bright all of the sudden and I could tell that I was falling. We were falling at one gee. We were at Earth, but where? Then something hit my back hard and rolled me over. Now I was facing downward and I could see that I was falling through a canopy of very thick pine trees. We were at least thirty feet from the ground. Another pine tree limb smacked my faceplate and cracked it, whiplashing me. The fall seemed as though it took hours. It really only took a few seconds for me to crash into the sand at the base of a very large tree. I had landed on my back staring upward. I heard Tabitha thud against the sand a few meters to my left.

    The probe had become entangled in the limbs of the tree and was hanging twenty feet or so above us. I did a quick survey of my body and could feel no breaks or puncture wounds, but I felt like one large bruise. My muscles were still slightly traumatized and I couldn’t move yet. The EMU made moving even more difficult. My PLSS was buried no telling how deep in the sand.

    “Tabitha, are you okay? Tabitha?” I yelled. I was able to move my arm enough to open my sun visor then I twisted and lifted the helmet free. Hot moist and very thick air rushed into my face and nearly choked me. It felt great to be home.

    “Anson, I’m okay, but I think I bruised or broke some ribs. I can’t really move. I need help getting up.”

    “Me too. I’m kind of stuck in the sand.”

    Then the trees above us bent nearly over to the ground and swayed back upright several times. The wind had picked up so strong that several of the smaller pines in my peripheral vision snapped in half. One of the tops of the trees was airborne and collided with the probe in the trees above Tabitha and me. The collision was just enough to jar the probe loose. The wind whipped the trees around and the probe began a gravity-assisted plunge toward us. I screamed like a little girl, but the adrenaline rush from my fight or flight reflexes gave me the strength to roll over and bear-crawl out from under the crashing six-ton spacecraft. I hoped that Tabitha could move. Although I didn’t count on it since the spacesuits weigh about three hundred pounds each in one gee of gravity.

    The probe crashed only inches behind me. I was able to stand to my feet with the strength from the adrenaline. I lost the PLSS, HUT, SSA, and helmet as quickly as possible. As quickly as possible was several minutes. I began removing my LCVG gloves and footies and a serious gust of wind caught me and threw me over the probe. My suit partially inflated from the hellacious wind but remained weighed down where I removed it. I grabbed at a tree as I flew by it and stabilized my fall.

    “This wind makes no sense at all,” I said to myself. I thought possibly it might be some sort of wind vortices anomaly due to the warp bubble appearing then disappearing in the atmosphere. Whatever it was, the air was chaotic as hell now. The wind pushed me over again and I landed about two meters from Tabitha who hadn’t moved when the probe fell. An ECC support tube was across her left leg. Fortunately she was lying in sand and the tube merely forced her deeper into the soft ground. I dug her out and dragged her from beneath the tube.

    “How are you?” I asked.

    “I’m okay. What is happening?”

    The bottom fell from the sky as torrential rainfall pounded us. The winds grew even stronger. The air was getting colder.

    “I ain’t sure, Tabitha. Let’s get you out of the suit and try to figure out where the hell we are.” Pine trees don’t grow in the desert, and it was way too humid for New Mexico. As we were getting Tabitha down to her LCVGs the weather turned for the worse. It began hailing golfball-to-baseball size chunks of ice. Tabitha and I crawled under one of the ECCs for protection. Then lightning struck a tree about ten feet away from us. The tree burst about five feet from the ground and fell over. It landed on one of the other ECCs with a loud crash and pieces of the device were scattered about. We huddled together under the protection of ECC two.

    I could hear even stronger winds and the lightning increased. The hail continued to pummel the ECC. Tabitha pointed out several treetops flying off into the sky.

    “Look! I’ve seen that before!” she cried.

    Tabitha grew up in Austin, Texas. I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama. Both places are right smack dab in the middle of tornado alley. We both knew a tornado when we saw it. And holy shit we were seeing one now. A big one!

    “How the hell did we happen to land right in the middle of a twister?” she yelled over the clanking of hailstones.

    “Let’s worry about that later. We’ve got to get out of the path of that thing,” I said and I began looking around. There didn’t seem to be any place to go that would offer shelter. A pine tree zipped past us at fifty miles per hour.

    “That way!” Tabitha pointed in a direction that appeared to be orthogonal or at a ninety-degree angle to the direction of the tornado’s path. The hope was to not be in front of the tornado when it passed by. The tornado was maybe a quarter mile away from us and was cruising at probably forty miles per hour. No way we could outrun it. Maybe we had time to get out of its way. We started running. Fast! Tabitha clutched her side as she ran.

    Lightning struck to my right about ten meters away.

    “Shit! That was close!” I said.

    “Shut up and run!” Tabitha was holding her left side. She had said she thought her ribs were cracked. It had to hurt but worry or talking about it couldn’t help the pain and staying here in front of that tornado was not an option either of us liked.

    We ran hard through an endless pine thicket just ahead of the sound of breaking trees and limbs. I soon realized that this was no natural thicket. The trees were all about the same age and they were all growing in lines. We were in a timber company’s pine grove – and fortunate for our bare feet that there was a nice sandy path between each row of pines.

    I looked over my shoulder and noticed that the large tornado had spun off three smaller ones that were in a merry-go-round circling it. The large central storm had to be a four on the Fujita scale at least. Maybe even an F-five.

    We came to a small creek that cut through the pine grove. We were running too fast to stop easily so Tabitha and I jumped and landed right in the middle of it. Fortunately the creek bed was sandy or we could’ve twisted or broken feet and ankles. The creek wasn’t more than knee deep in water, but the banks were five or six feet high.

    “Let’s dig in right here,” I yelled. The wind was still so loud we could barely hear one another.

    “Good. I can’t run much more.” She gasped holding her side.

    We crawled up as close to the bank of the creek as we could and grabbed onto anything we could hold. The lightning was getting closer and the sound of the storm was getting louder. I thought of rising up and looking over the embankment, but then a tree trunk whooshed by inches above the ground. It would have taken my head off. I hunkered down and stayed put. Those tornadoes were only a quarter of a mile or so away and I never once heard the sounds of a damn freight train. All I could hear was an intense wind and the sound of trees breaking. There was thunder, but no freight train.

    The storm turned away from the crash site and away from us. As the tornado sounds got further and further away I decided to brave a peak over the edge of the creek bank. I could see the tornadoes ripping through the trees in the distance.

    “I think we’re out of the woods for now.” I stood and offered Tabitha a hand. I looked around and remembered that we were actually in the woods and laughed at the pun.

    “What a day.” She grabbed and kissed me hard. “That’s for marrying me.” She kissed me again. “That’s for getting us back to Earth alive.” She kissed me once more and said, “That, is just for the hell of it.”

    I gazed into her eyes and commented on how beautiful she looked.

    “Phew! You’re blind.” She shrugged.

    I started to respond to her when the world suddenly started spinning. I tried to keep focused on Tabitha’s face, but I couldn’t. Everything spun around and around as if I was on a merry-go-round moving at fifty miles per hour. Then I lost my balance and fell sideways into the creek. I struggled to keep my head above the water level, but I had no connection to what up or down was. My sense of direction had completely vanished. Tabitha pulled my head above the water and grunted from the painful effort.

    “Anson, what’s wrong?”

    I was able to make it onto all fours with my face slightly above the water. Then I vomited violently. Tabitha didn’t move. She made sure my head stayed above the water. Several dry heaves later the nausea subsided somewhat and I was able to get to my feet with Tabitha’s help.

    “Your inner ear isn’t used to the gravity yet,” Tabitha told me. “That happened to me the first couple of times.” She tried not to laugh. “Can you stand on your own?”

    “Sure I can.” She let go of my shoulders and I fell flat on my face. This time I was able to pull myself from the water without her help. I rested on all fours for a couple of minutes. “Just give me a minute or two. How long does this take to pass?” I cupped creek water in my hands and splashed it in my face several times.

    “It took me a good couple of hours before I felt okay the first time. But some people it never bothers. Motion sickness is weird that way. Take your time. What else have we got to do?”

    We sat at the edge of the creek for another ten or fifteen minutes while I regained my equilibrium. I should have realized that I would be affected. I had such a hard time adjusting from gravity to microgravity that it just makes sense that I would have some difficulty with the reverse process as well.

    “This is about like getting the drunk spins. Did you ever get so blasted that all you could do is just lie on the bed with one foot hanging off and stare at the ceiling? You know that if you move you’ll throw up.”

    “I did a few times in undergraduate school and when I was accepted into the astronaut program.” She replied. “I had an inner ear infection once in high school that made me just as sick. I remember sleeping in the bathroom because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it there if need be.”

    “Yeah. I had an ear infection like that once. That’s exactly how this feels. It is slowly subsiding though.” I shook my head hard a few times hoping to reset my inner ear. The first time I did it I thought I was going to heave again. The second time the spins stopped. I saw stars for a split second and then I was better. “That is much better,” I told Tabitha.

    “What are you doing?” she laughed.

    “Trying to reset my inner ear gyroscope system. Friday does it whenever she falls a long distance or gets tumbled. I figured if it works for cats, why not humans?”

    Tabitha laughed at me and said, “I’ve heard flight surgeons suggest that to folks before, but I’ve never seen anybody do it.” She laughed again, “You’re weird.”

    “Well, it seems to have helped.” I stood up with no help.

    I reached to my EMU pockets and realized that I wasn’t wearing my EMU.

    “Tabitha. We have to go check out the probe.” We helped each other out of the creek bed. I will always remember thinking that we must have been quite the sight, two people wearing white Spandex long underwear, covered with mud, soaking wet, and traipsing practically barefoot through the woods, we basically had no survival tools other than ourselves, a wrecked spacecraft, a few multi-million dollar hand tools that would only fit the million dollar bolts on that spacecraft, and two highly damaged spacesuits at our disposal.

    We made our way through the debris backtracking the hundred or so meters we had covered while running from the storm. Tabitha picked up a hailstone that must have been the size of a softball. It was beginning to melt in the heat.

    “Have you ever seen a hailstone this large?”

    “Nope. I’ve also never seen a tornado that size.”

    “Yeah,” she replied. “It was an F-five I’ll bet.”

    “Uh huh! How are your ribs?”

    “I don’t think they’re broken. But I guarantee they’re bruised badly.”

    As we approached the probe I noticed a very very low pitched humming sound. I found my EMU and dug out the engagement ring. I took Tabitha’s left hand and put it on her ring finger. I got down on one knee.

    “Marry me,” I said.

    “Get up idiot. I already said yes.” She pulled me up. “Besides, we need to figure out where we are.”

    The sun poked out from behind the clouds and rays of sunlight filtered through the pine trees. It was good old Sol all right - I could tell by the color. Any fantasies about having warped off to some other planet had been parlayed.

    “Earth.” I said.


    “We’re on Earth. That is where we are.” I held up my hands as if to encompass the world.

    “Smartass. I know this is Earth. But where on Earth? I never saw a pine thicket like this in New Mexico.” Tabitha rested her right hand on her hip and cocked her head sideways like she always does when she is being a smartass in return.

    There was a path a half of a mile wide south of us that had been cleared away by the tornadoes. I knew which direction it was now that the sun was out.

    “You’re right. This ain’t New Mexico. Reminds me of southern Alabama,” I replied.

    The humming sound got louder.

    Tabitha and I poked around the probe trying to determine where it was coming from. First we tried the comm system. It had been crushed completely by debris or landing - it was difficult to determine which. Tabitha pulled a limb out of ECC number three, the one that was damaged the most. The humming got louder and turned to a buzzing.

    “Holy crap! The sound is coming from the ECC!” I looked a Tabitha. She looked back at me with a horrified expression on her face.

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