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Warp Speed: Chapter Eleven

       Last updated: Friday, July 2, 2004 23:40 EDT



    “How long, Anson?”

    I plowed through the wreckage looking for the precise origin point of the sound. “Dig the batteries out of the science suite if they are still intact,” I told her.

    I found the general area where I thought the sound was coming from and tried to isolate a subset of circuit boards. The horrified looks we had had on our faces were warranted. The Casimir effect energy devices were oscillating asymmetrically. In other words, the Clemons dumbbells were going chaotic. Not just a few of them like the ones that destroyed the bathroom at the manufacturing facility or the handful that injured ‘Becca. The amplitude of the buzzing sound implied hundreds of thousands of these things could go. I started doing the math in my head. If all of them went at one time, the explosion would be bigger than Hiroshima or if I slipped a zero or two, which I often do without paper and pencil, much bigger than Hiroshima. Of course, it had occurred to all of us working the project from day one, that we were dealing with much larger than nuclear-explosion levels of power. That is why the ECCs were to never be activated until we were in space. The conventional propulsion system on the probe was to take it up to about a thousand kilometer orbit and there we would turn them on.

    “Only one of the batteries is still operational, Anson. How long till it blows? Answer me!” Tabitha implored.

    “Bring it over here. And I’m working on it.” I ripped some cabling from the probe. I fumbled through my EMU and found the Swiss Army knife that all astronauts are issued. I stripped off the ends of two wires and tied them to the battery poles. Then I stripped the other ends and shunted across a section of the Clemons dumbbells. The buzzing returned back to a humming. The battery was drained completely.

    “Shit! That battery wasn’t enough. This thing is going to blow, in like, an hour or so. If we can’t find a power source to overload the Clemons Dumbbells in the ECCs, they get stuck in that positive feedback loop and will eventually go big bang!” I said.

    “There’s nothing else we can do? Is there no other spacecraft power system?”

    “Sure. The ECCs delivered all the power we needed, but they’re fried and this one is about to go kablooie!” I shrugged my shoulders and did an explosion gesture with my hands.

    “What about that one?” Tabitha pointed at good old ECC number two. The one we had used as a shield from the hail.

    I ran to the diagnostic panel on the side of it and tore off the plate. Tabitha grabbed her electric ratchet and started in on the bolts. In a few short seconds we were peering at a perfectly good cube of Clemons dumbbells. I shorted the breaker, which in turn kicked the dumbbells loose. The ECC started producing power. Then an arc jumped out of it and tossed me about four meters away from it. Smoke and sparks poured out of the cube. Tabitha ran to my side and helped me to my feet.

    “Are you okay?”

    “Yeah,” I shook the numbness out of my hands. “Oh well. That’s that, I guess. I can’t stop the cube from blowing now.”

    “How big will it be?” Tabitha was scared. She looked even more scared than she had when the Shuttle exploded.

    “Judging from the size of the area that’s humming. I would guess that in about two hours or so everything within a radius of about ten miles from where we’re standing will be totally destroyed. That is only a guess mind you. About two times as big as Hiroshima comes to mind however.” I looked south at the pathway the tornadoes had cleared for us.

    “Anson, are you sure we can’t stop it?”

    “Yes. Hell I wish we could just hit the damn thing with a rock and get it over with, but that might trigger more of the dumbbells to go chaotic and make the thing blow up sooner and bigger!”

    “Then I guess we have no choice but to run! Let’s go.” She started to take off.

    “Hold on,” I grabbed her by the wrist. “Get your water bag out of your EMU first.”

    “Good thinking.” She nodded.

    I was thirsty and borderline dehydrated and needed to drink – being sick earlier hadn’t helped either. We tore the PLSS backpacks apart and dug out our water supplies. They were about a third full each. Better than nothing. I fashioned some straps from the backpack material and we tied the bags on to our backs. The plastic tubes from the bags we threw over our shoulder so we could grab it and drink from it whenever we pleased.

    “Just like my water pack for my mountain bike gear,” I told Tabitha.

    Tabitha also grabbed the Velcro NASA mission patches off our suits. “We should have some sort of visible identification other than just my dog tags,” she said.

    “Ready. Now, can you run with your ribs?” I asked.

    “Yeah, I’m just a little sore. Are you going to make it? Any more dizziness?”

    “I’m fine. Let’s get out of here,” I responded.

    “Which way?” she asked as she scanned the area.

    “Path of least resistance,” I said pointing to the tornado’s track.

    We started running at a slow pace and watching our footing. At least we were on sand. The Spandex footies in the LCVGs helped some. I wish we would’ve had shoes.

    “Tabitha,” I started, “if we have ten miles to run, and to be safe say, we have an hour and forty-five minutes to do it, then we better run nine minute miles. No problem with shoes on and no bruised ribs. Can you make it?”

    “The ribs aren’t hurting so bad right now. The sand is okay to run in. Let’s hope that we stay in the sand. How are you doing?”

    “Good. Nausea is completely gone now and my nappy old karate feet will take a lot more damage than this. Besides, I invented the warp drive!” I mentally patted myself on the back.

    “I was thinking about that. Are you sure?” Tabitha asked.

    “Sure about what?”

    “How do you know that you broke the speed of light? We didn’t have any of the science instrumentation operational to measure our velocity.”

    “Couldn’t you just have kept that to yourself!” I joked. “Okay let’s do the math for worst case. We were about three hundred kilometers from Earth. The Earth blinked out and then we were here. The time inside the bubble seemed to me to be about a second or two. Do you agree?” I took a sip of water from the tube hanging over my right shoulder.

    “Yes, I agree with that. Even if you consider the start time when we saw the blue light flashes around us, there was still a second of delay.” Tabitha saw me drinking water and decided to do the same.

    “All right, then we’ll call that three hundred kilometers per second or three times ten to the five meters per second. Light speed is three times ten to the eight meters per second. We were three orders of magnitude short. Hey that’s still faster than any human has ever traveled.”

    “Maybe the transit time really only took a millisecond but we have no way of ever knowing that do we?” She asked.

    “None that I can see. The blue light probably was Cerenkov radiation but who knows. Whether we broke the speed of light or not, our propulsion came from warping space. We were still the first humans to travel with warp drive.” I looked at my watch. We had been running for about twelve minutes. We still had a long way to go.

    An hour or so had passed when I noticed a break in the trees at the edge of the Finger of God path that the tornadoes had made. “Let’s veer toward that opening in the trees.”

    The opening turned out to be a logging road. This was most definitely a planned timber grove. It could possibly be a state forest. Sometimes when fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. tear through a park pine trees are planted to fill the holes and protect from erosion.

    “I need to breathe for just a second Anson. My side is hurting.”

    “Only for a minute or two Tabitha. We have to keep moving.”

    “Okay. We’ll keep walking, just slowly for a minute or so.” She held her side. We stopped for a second. Then started walking.

    “So, any ideas where we are?” I asked her.

    “Not really. The air feels like the southeastern United States to me though. It has to be ninety-five degrees and at least eighty percent humidity. It is almost like Titusville. Every now and then I even think that I can smell the ocean.” She continued to hold her side.

    “Yeah, I thought I could smell salt earlier also. Are you sure you’re okay?”

    “I have to be, don’t I.” She made the last statement as more of an order to herself. It was definitely not a question.

    “Hey stop!” I yelled. “Don’t step any further.” Tabitha obeyed but she looked at me very confused.

    “What is it?” She took a defensive posture.

    “Tabitha, without moving look down about two feet in front of you.” She did and if it were possible to sweat more than we already were, she did so.

    “Anson, I hate snakes!”

    A small colorful snake was sunning itself in the sand on Tabitha’s side of the logging road. I slipped way around so as not to startle the snake and found a tree limb that was about four feet long. I broke it off a sapling that was overhanging the road.

    “Come here, fella! You’re alright, mate!” I did my best Steve Irwin impression. I made a slight disturbance behind the snake with the stick and it turned away from Tabitha. “Okay, Tabitha, slowly back up, then come around to me mate. Whoa, you’re okay, mate.” The snake struck at the twig a few times.

    “Would you quit talking like that!” She did just as I had told her although she was obviously annoyed by my sense of humor.

    “Red touching black you can pet him on the back. Red touching yellow will kill a fellow.” I recited the poem that my dad had told me when I was a kid.

    “You mean that thing is poisonous, right?” Tabitha held my shoulder keeping me between her and the snake.

    “Well, at least I know where we are now. With this vegetation, the sand, and this little coral snake, which by the way is more poisonous than a rattlesnake - or at least as poisonous. Though it is kind of like comparing apples and oranges since they carry different types of toxins. I digress. Anyway,” I continued, “I would guess that we’re in south Alabama, Georgia, or northern Florida. I’m not quite sure why we missed our mark so far. Probably a miscalculation of the frame dragging effect or something. Maybe somebody is fiddling with the laws of physics and not telling us.” I laughed at the thought of that. Then I remembered that Tabitha’s parents lived in Florida and began to wonder just how much damage our return home had caused, would cause. I hoped that the tornadoes had blown themselves out before they reached population centers. I started to bring it up but Tabitha had enough on her mind with the physical pain and all – not to mention the mental pain of losing several of her long time friends in the Shuttle explosion. We didn’t dare think about that. Keep moving soldiers; we’ll mourn our brothers later.

    “We better get back to moving,” Tabitha nudged me away from the little snake.

    “G’day mate.” I said, tossed the stick away, and we began running again.

    We ran quietly for the next four or five minutes. I let Tabitha set the pace. She must have been feeling better because we were cranking out probably seven and a half minute miles. The terrain was rather flat. It was easy running except that we had no shoes and were both wearing Spandex long johns. The sandy roadbed became slightly more compacted and there were fresh tire tracks on it.

    “Tire tracks,” I said.

    “That means people might live close by. Anson we are going to be responsible for killing them.” Tabitha seemed to up the pace but maybe it was my imagination.

    “I know. Maybe we can get somewhere in time to warn people or to go back and stop the explosion. We still have at least twenty-five minutes, maybe thirty or more.”

    “Listen!” Tabitha said. “I hear a vehicle! It sounds like it’s coming from around the curve ahead.”

    “You’re right! I hear it too!” We pushed a little harder hoping to catch whoever was ahead of us. We turned the curve and three other roads joined into a slightly larger one. The noise was a HUMV about thirty yards ahead of us on the main southbound road. As we approached it became clear that the HUMV was stopped at the gate of a fence. The fence was about eight feet tall with barbed wire at the top. At the edge of the road was a guard shack and a sign that told us that we were at one of the gates to Eglin Airforce Base. We were in Florida.

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