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Warp Speed: Chapter Thirteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, September 8, 2004 23:50 EDT



    “Anson, wake up!” Tabitha slapped me across the face. My head was pounding and I couldn’t breathe. I heaved. Tabitha rolled me over onto all fours as I heaved again. I vomited mostly blood and very few other fluids. I held myself steady on all fours for a moment longer and heaved once more.

    “Anson, are you okay?”

    “I think so.” I made it to my feet, shook my head lightly, and looked at Tabitha. Her face was scratched up badly and her left eye was swollen shut with a big bloody gash just above it. Her flight suit was torn and bloody across her chest and left side. A slight trickle of blood was noticeable on her left earlobe.

    “Are you okay?” I asked.

    “I’ll live. It’s superficial stuff. The worst part is that I think my left wrist is broken. Mostly, I just have a lot of pain. I can deal with that.” She grimaced, “We have to get some help soon. You’ve lost a lot of blood. I’m getting concerned about you.”

    “Hell I can’t believe we’re still alive. How’d we survive that blast?”

    “Simple shock wave aerodynamics,” she replied. “I maxed our velocity to get us as high as fast as we could get. The air pressure is lower as you get higher of course. I managed to surf the wave as long as the aircraft would take it, which wasn’t that long. When the aircraft came apart, the blast wave overtook us. Then we were on the inside of the wave. What is the air pressure behind a shock wave?” she quizzed me.

    “Of course. The pressure behind a shock is at stagnation pressure of that gas. In Earth’s atmosphere, that is one atmospheric pressure of air, mostly harmless. Genius! You knew we weren’t going to make it. That is why you told me to wait on ejecting until you ordered me to. And you didn’t order us to eject until we were inside the shock wave letting the plane take the force of the blast wave.” That was more than I felt like saying at the time, but it was so brilliant I had to say something.

    “That’s it. You win the prize.”

    “God I love you,” I gurgled. “Let’s find a way to civilization. What do you think?” I scanned the area. “Where the heck are we?”

    “I think we’re about three miles north of the crash site. Airman Jason said that his Aunt Rosie lives near here. There might be civilization there.” Tabitha paused and gazed at the total destruction around us, “Or at least what is left of it. Can you walk?”

    “I guess I’d better.” I coughed up more blood and gurgled a little as I inhaled. I felt weaker and more tired than I ever had in my life. It had been a long day. Thanks to the ECC explosion the terrain was a one big pile of rubble and smashed pine trees after another – it wasn’t easy going. Jesus, the destruction!

    We had been walking for more than thirty minutes before we came to a paved road. I was feeling weak. I was so weak that each step took all of my will power and strength to accomplish. I felt like I was about to “bonk”.

    For you non-athletes out there “bonking” might mean something else, – something, erh, sexual – but to the athletes you know what I’m getting at. I had bonked before once when ‘Becca and Jim and I were mountain bike riding in Tsali, North Carolina. Tsali has some of the most beautiful single track in the country. Well, we had been riding for most of the day. I remember being on top of ‘Becca’s wheel then we hit a hard climb. My muscles started aching halfway up. Then I had no more energy to turn the cranks. No matter how hard I tried to stroke the pedals, there was no strength in my legs. The next thing I knew Jim was standing over me squirting his water bottle in my face.

    “What happened?” ‘Becca asked. “You were right on my ass then you just died and fell over. I looked back and you were on the ground.”

    “I don’t know?” I told her.

    “Drink this Doc.” Jim handed me his bottle.

    My hands were too shaky to hold on to it and I felt sick to my stomach. “I don’t understand what is wrong with me.” I stated.

    “Have you eaten anything, Doc?” ‘Becca asked.

    “Well I ate lunch with you guys.”

    “Anson, she means have you eaten anything while you were on the bike. We have been riding for over three hours and your hydration system only has water in it.” Jim pointed to my pack.

    “You mean, I’m supposed to eat while on the bike?” That was the weirdest thing I had ever heard.

    “Newbie!” ‘Becca laughed and shook her head.

    “You never read the magazines I give you, do you, Doc?” Jim asked. “Never you mind. Eat this.” He handed me a sports bar. “If you’re riding for more than a couple of hours, you need to restore your energy supplies here and there. You’ve used up all the glycogen in your muscles and your body is now trying to use your excess body fat for energy.”

    “Yeah, good. What is wrong with that?” I interrupted him.

    “Newbie!” ‘Becca laughed again.

    “Well Doc, nothing is wrong with that. In fact that’s where you do some really good fat burning. But, your body cannot convert stored fat to energy fast enough to keep up with the demands of a hard riding pace. Hence, the need to supplement with external calories.” Jim took the sports bar wrapper from me and stuck it in his jersey pocket.

    “Here Doc, drink some of my sports drink. It will get into your system faster. You basically had a low blood sugar crash like diabetics do. It is called bonking. Good news is that you’ll live. Bad news is that Jim and I are going to leave you here for the bears to eat.” She helped me up and winked at me.

    We rode back to the parking lot at a much slower pace. I didn’t fully recover for at least fifteen minutes or more. Even then I was tired. I chilled in the air-conditioned car while Jim and ‘Becca made a lap on another section of the single track. I had a completely new respect and sympathy for diabetics. Moreover, I felt very bad about missing some of that awesome single track due to my own ignorance.

    This’s how I was feeling now as Tabitha and I crawled onto the pavement. Then I started getting cold and my feet were falling to sleep. The tips of my fingers felt like ice and it was well over ninety degrees. It was getting harder to breathe.

    “Tabitha, I don’t think I’m gonna make it. I think I’m gonna pass out.” I told her.

    “Enough of that! You will make it do you hear me?” Colonel Ames ordered.

    “Yes Colonel…” I fell flat on my face and didn’t get up.

    I don’t think that I passed out either, because I can remember watching Tabitha, and I could hear her also.

    “Anson! Anson, wake up,” she cried. Then she slapped me on the face a few times. “Anson can you hear me?”

    I continued to stare up at her. I tried hard to move or say something, anything. No motion or sound came from my lifeless body. I tried harder and harder to speak. I couldn’t.

    Tabitha held her right ear over my mouth and then my chest. Then she held her fingers to my neck as if she were checking my pulse. I remember watching all of this. Then she leaned over closer as if she were going to kiss me. I tried to ask her what she was doing. I still couldn’t move. Then the sunlight faded out and Tabitha seemed to be far away from me looking at me through a long dark tube. Then she was gone.

    Bright lights hit me from all sides. A thumping sound filled my ears. I was hearing my own heart beat arhythmically then it stopped. The lights went out again. Then I felt a serious pain throughout my body. For a second I thought that I was back at the ECC trying to short it out and getting electrocuted. Then the light came back and I could see that I was still on the side of the road with Tabitha and three other people I had never met before. I could hear again.

    “Anson! Oh my God, Anson, wake up,” Tabitha was crying now.

    “Dr. Clemons, can you hear me,” one of the men asked. Then the second man held a breather over my face.

    The lights went out again. Everything was dark. Then I realized that I was sitting in my study back in Huntsville, Alabama. For some reason that didn’t seem strange to me. It felt right. Why, I cannot explain.

    “So you finally did it, did you?” Albert asked.

    I turned to Professor Einstein and responded, “What? I did what finally?”

    “You fixed my blunder,” he said and pointed to the whiteboard.

    The whiteboard had the complete story spelled out in undergraduate math. From beginning to end in front of me was The Grand Unification of All Forces of Nature. Everything was described, gravity was a simple ungauging of the electromagnetic field, inertia was due to the vacuum energy fluctuations and something similar to Mach’s principle, renormalization of the Standard Model wasn’t required, and Einstein’s Cosmological Constant when moved to the right rest frame turned out to be proportional to Hubble’s constant for the expansion of spacetime. It was beautiful, absolutely magnificent!

    “I didn’t do that,” I told him.

    “But of course you did. In one experiment, you accomplished all of that. You just have yet to write it all down.” He smiled and shook my hand approvingly. “I just wish,” he began, “that such a large sacrifice didn’t have to be made for such great achievements.”

    “Large sacrifice?” I shrugged.

    “The death and destruction!” He pointed out. “The tornadoes caused by the experiment destroyed countless lives and property. The blast from the ECC must have killed any survivors. My guess is that the blast was larger than Nagasaki.”

    “Jesus! Al, I killed them all didn’t I? I should have never attempted to warp the probe back to Earth. But, I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t let Tabitha die.” I justified my actions.

    “Ah, I see. But wasn’t she going to be saved by the Crew Return Vehicle if you sacrificed yourself?”

    “Well, uh…”

    “Yes she was! You could have prevented the destruction couldn’t you?”

    “Oh my God! I could have. I should have. If only I would have known I-”

    “No! You wouldn’t have! You shouldn’t have! And you couldn’t have!” Einstein slammed his fists down against the arms of my reading chair where he always sits.

    “But you just said that I could have saved her.”

    “Anson my dear fellow she might have been saved. But as we now know there was a Chinese spacecraft being fueled and prepared to rendezvous with the spacetime distortion device.” He never would say warp drive.


    “The device would have been used for the gain of power Anson. That type of power shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. This is why I signed the letter to President Roosevelt endorsing atom bomb research. I feared a madman might gain that knowledge first. Although I will never forgive myself for the evil device that I took part in creating, I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself for letting it fall into the wrong hands either.”

    “What is this? Is this some kind of sermon? I know good and well that this technology shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands – Hell, that’s why most of it was classified. But I also know that I do want the United States to have this technology and I don’t feel bad about being able to ensure the safety of Americans from tyrants by inventing a better and more destructive mousetrap. I only feel bad about the way I was forced to test it and about the horrible loss of life of my own countrymen that I caused. I’m not a warmonger. I was merely trying to develop a way to go to the stars so that the human race might have a chance at growing up. And anyway, Al, you helped get the bomb built that saved us all from World War Three.”

    “Very good, Anson--” Einstein started.

    “Stop interrupting me,” I shouted. “I didn’t ask to be put into that life-or-death situation. Johnny Cache and his employers put us there. They killed my countrymen not me! I was a pawn! But, Tabitha and I stopped the bastards! So there! I think I’m done with you and your philosophical and utopian views.” I paused for air. I noticed Einstein was smiling back at me. I was getting angry and my adrenaline was starting to flow – If I were Bruce Banner, I’d have turned green and started smashing shit about then.

    “Very good, Anson. I don’t believe that you need me anymore either. You will do just fine.” Instead of turning into a purple emu and flying away this time, he slid down the helmet of his EMU and locked it into place; EMU not emu this time. “Just fine,” he said as he opened my closet door. “Perhaps you will be able to sleep now.”

    Funny that the whole time he was setting there talking to me, I didn’t notice that he was wearing a spacesuit. Somehow, it just seemed right. He was wearing an EMU not becoming an emu. My mind was trying to tell me something but I wasn’t sure what.

    “Hey wait!” I shouted to him. “You aren’t here and this ain’t real is it?”

    “Of course I’m real, Anson,” he paused at the closet door. “I’m as real as your subconscious and I’m as real as your need to be humble. You did all of this amazing science and engineering and will not admit that to yourself. Perhaps, you created me in your dreams to tell you what you wouldn’t tell yourself. But you will not be needing me any longer, I think.”

    Then he stepped into the airlock in my closet and exited out into space. A gush of air hit me in the face as the airlock cycled. He was gone.

    Then the lights blinked off, then on, and then off and on again. I cold hear a loud repetitive noise and then something hit me hard in the chest. It felt like a truck.

    “Dr. Clemons, can you hear me?” A fourth man that I had never met was looking down at me.

    “I have a pulse!” I could hear in the background.

    “The epinephrine is working. How much farther to the hospital?” he asked.

    “Pilot says four minutes.”

    “It’d better be two!” the man replied. Then he turned from me to Tabitha, “What’s his blood type?”

    “O-positive.” She said.

    I tried to say thanks to them but I still couldn’t move or speak for some reason. The head medic turned back to me.

    “Dr. Clemons if you can hear me I want you to blink your eyes.” He said.

    I blinked at him twice.

    “Oh Anson!” Tabitha continued to cry.

    Then I started feeling slightly better. Probably the adrenaline or whatever this was in my arm. I noticed an I.V. hanging from the roof of the helicopter and I felt like I would be able to speak so I tried. Nothing happened.

    “Don’t try to speak Anson!” Tabitha shouted.

    “Dr. Clemons you have a tube in your throat. Don’t try to speak. Do you understand? If so blink twice.”

    I blinked twice. Then I started feeling weak again. The adrenaline probably wouldn’t hold me for long. I was here though and I was damned sure going to stay, no matter how much it hurt or how hard it was to stay awake. Besides, there were a lot of things left for me to do. Tabitha squeezed my hand. The feeling had returned to my fingers. It wasn’t very long before I could tell that the helicopter was descending. Tabitha continued to lock eyes with me. Or rather, eye with me. Her one eye was still swollen shut.

    Tabitha held my hand all the way from the helipad to the elevator. While in the elevator she leaned down and kissed my cheek. The elevator doors opened and she followed beside me until we hit the operating room. A gentleman wearing scrubs told her that she needed to come with him.

    “I want to know how--” Tabitha was saying as the doors closed. Once they closed, I could no longer hear her voice.

    “Okay ready to move him on three,” one of the men in scrubs said. “One, two, three!” They heaved me onto a table. I saw a lady inject something into my I.V.

    “Don’t worry sir, you are going to be fine…” Everything went black again.

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