This is the thirty-third episode of No Marigolds in the Promised Land, a serialized Compact Universe novel. To get the entire novel, go here for details.
Dedicated to Dave Harr and in memory of Andre Polk
CNV ALCUBIERRE –IN INTERSTELLAR SPACE
1002 – 42 Mandela, 429
In normal space, the shuttle sent by Tol Germanicus created headaches for Danaq and his fellow pilots. The shuttle was large, and by attaching to a freight dock on the side of the warp drive sphere, it threw handling off. Danaq complained that the Alcubierre felt like it had an anchor dropped onto something immobile. He found himself having to compensate for linear drift every time the ship corrected course. And the shuttle caused many more course corrections than normal.
At warp, it did not matter. The shuttle’s somewhat flat profile helped it stay inside the warp field. Otherwise the jump to FTL would have sheered it off and possibly the freight hatch with it. Unfortunately, there was no telling how another collision with a large gravity well would have affected it.
“Should have asked for one more hyperdrone or a sensor probe,” said Friese as she and Danaq sat playing chess in the Alcubierre‘s ward room.
“Try justifying that to the Navy,” said Danaq. “From what you told me, Linda had to be the carrot to that Germanicus guy’s stick. I can’t imagine Linda having to bat her eyelashes at this Red Cloud guy’s…”
When Danaq stopped, Friese realized she had a horrible poker face. She decided to play dumb. “What?”
He shook his head. “You and Liz. And you probably think Linda is in love with you. I made that mistake. Once.”
Danaq put up his hand. “I’m not judging you, but you do wear it on your sleeve.” He took his knight and moved it deep into Friese’s territory. “On this ship, it gets lonely. Basically, we’re in sort of a bubble universe. We can’t communicate outside the warp field, and we can’t see anything at this speed. And we’re in it for days, even weeks.”
“Makes me wonder why we even bothered with this sort of drive.” Friese placed one of her remaining pawns in the path of Daunq’s knight. “Maybe I’m biased, working with hypergates all my adult life, but it seems to me we’re wasting time and resources. Wormholes are as close to instantaneous space travel as we can get.”
Danaq ignored her pawn and moved a rook toward her queen. “No, there’s one other theory. And since we’re trapped inside a bubble of real space with no way to talk to the outside world, I can tell you. You know about quantum entanglement. Right?”
“Spooky action at a distance. What affects one particle affects any particle entangled with it instantly no matter the distance.” She had a pawn in Danaq’s territory that went toward his king. “I’ve heard that might be a way to create an ansible.”
“Oh, the ansible’s happening. That’s not classified, just under most people’s radar.”
Friese had heard the rumors. The trouble was they were rumors. It would not have surprised her if the rumors had been deliberately leaked wrapped in a lot of conspiracy nonsense. Secrets leaked. Rumors hid in plain sight. Anything one might hear about the fantastical could be true, but so much misinformation surrounded it that it had no credibility. “I thought that was just a sailor’s tale, like the Taiyang Huo Corporation really runs the Compact.”
“Actually,” said Danaq, taking the pawn blocking his knight, “if any company does, it’s Dasarius. But not the Dasarius family. As for the ansible, yeah, it’s a leaked rumor, but I’ve seen one. A prototype, anyway. Definitely not ready for prime time. We can do more using ships and drones to dump a planet’s entire internet onto another planet’s than we can with the current version of an ansible. It’s like an FTL telegraph. Neat concept, but by the time you translate the message, you’ve just received and unpacked a data dump from another system. But quantum entanglement does something else.”
Her pawn moved closer to Danaq’s king. “Like what?”
Danaq’s knight marched ever closer to Friese’s queen, directly in the path of a bishop and a knight she had been ignoring since the start of the match. “Quantum entanglement is just that. Quantum. It happens below the atomic level. Which means…?”
Friese nudged a rook she hadn’t played for several moves into position. “Um… Quarks? Gluons? What about them?”
“It means that you don’t have to be entangled with normal matter. Dark matter will do.” His knight moved in for the kill. “Imagine if you could swap places with dark matter light years away instantly. And the universe is full of the stuff.”
“But we can’t see dark matter.” Her bishop took out his knight. She suppressed a smirk at Danaq’s sudden confusion. “Not directly.”
“Not conventionally. But we can see it.” His voice had become weaker as he studied the board for another piece to go after Friese’s queen. The best he could do was take his other knight and start marching it across the board. “And quantum entanglement let’s us detect it directly. Now, you have a supposedly empty space in a star system, and you want to put your ship there without anyone seeing it. Well, what’s the difference if it transplants a rock of precisely the same mass or dark matter that doesn’t really affect its surroundings anyway? Theoretically, you could cross the universe in the blink of an eye.”
“Undetected.” Her pawn moved closer to the queen. Danaq seemed unaware of it and moved his last knight closer. “Which is why we’re doing warp drive.”
“Oh, believe me, that little incident with the brown dwarf? When we start building warp ships, they’re going to have to have EM and projection drive, or we’re going to wind up with a lot of ships out in the boondocks trying to maintain orbit above dead stars and rogue planets. Unless one gets sucked into a black hole. But entanglement will let us do instantly what we’re now trying to do with warp ships. Appear suddenly and without much fanfare. There are few surprise attacks from interstellar space because wormholes make so much noise across the electromagnetic spectrum that you might as well send a hyperdrone to the enemy with your coordinates. This ship drops out of warp with its radiation dissipated. Imagine if you’re confronted with a fleet that just materializes out of nowhere.”
Friese took Danaq’s queen with her pawn. “Checkmate?”
Danaq laughed. “I was always bad about watching the pawns.”
Naval Headquarters, Bellingshausen Island, Antarctica, Earth
1203 – 22 Mandela, 429
Tran Vu stared out at an unusually blue ocean of Bellingshausen Island. The sky had cleared to a deep cloudless blue. On the rocky shore, penguins frolicked in the sun. Never mind that day-long darkness would descend on the island within three months.
Tran decided it was time to end the Navy’s idiotic tradition of putting its headquarters in bland, remote locations. He would go before the Security Council and demand that Naval HQ move to someplace with major space access like Vancouver or Pyongyang, maybe somewhere in Central America. While growing up in Vietnam, he never imagined the highest achievement of his career would have him serving in a frozen waste off the coast of Antarctica.
He was still facing the view outside when Major Liu’s reflection appeared in the window.
“Sit down, Major,” said Tran. He did not turn around but waited as Liu’s visage sank behind him. “You have some powerful friends, Major. Very powerful friends. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Yes, sir,” said Liu. “Now do you see why we need to proceed as I suggested?”
“Yes,” said Tran.
“Then we will let Admiral Burke have enough rope to…”
“Admiral Burke will proceed precisely as she intends, Major,” said Tran. “With no interference from you and your masters.” He turned and leaned on his desk toward Liu. “But I am still a Joint Chief, Major. And as long as you wear that uniform, you will obey my orders. And you and your fellow lackeys will respect my office. And that of the Air Marshal, the Commandant of Marines, and Cybercommand’s G-5. Do you think you can do that, Major?”
For the first time ever, Tran saw fear in the Major’s eyes. “Sir, I…”
“The next words I hear come out of that mealy mouth of yours had better be ‘Yes, sir,’ or the civilian agents you met before will be back. And this time, you won’t be getting any help from Quantonesia. Am I clear, Major Liu?”
Confusion clouded the Major’s eyes. Finally, he said, “Yes, sir.”
“Good.” Tran stood and turned back to admire the rare beautiful day on Bellingshausen Island. “Now, have the Buran fueled and crewed and ready to go by this afternoon. Inform the captain he is to standby to travel to Barsoom on my order.” He saw Liu’s reflection in the window stand. “And if I do not find out through independent channels that this has been done, you’ll be buried in a hole so deep, Sol will be a white dwarf before you find your way out. Dismissed.”
He watched Liu leave the room without a word. Tran focused once more on the penguins frolicking the sun.
It was indeed a beautiful day on the island.
Solaria, Farno (formerly Barsoom)
Log Entry: 1207 – 22 Mandela, 429
Just once I would like to find out that someone thought to start digging tunnels between domes. After all, it’ll be at least a century before Barsoom is habitable, maybe longer given that 2 Mainzer is a red dwarf. I headed out on the afternoon of 20 Mandela with three rovers, two following 57, my favorite and Persephone’s, to the pit stop 200 kilometers beyond.
The power there was unstable. Fortunately, there was an older rover with a decent fusion core. It had about year’s worth of hydrogen left. I suggested we put solar wrap up to augment the power, assuming Admiral Burke follows through on her threat to get a “secret ship” here. Persephone nixed that idea.
“The idea of hiding in the pit stop is to camouflage you from the aliens,” she said, appearing in solid mode for the first time in a couple of days. “Solar wrap on the rocks above would be a big arrow toward you.”
“What about the rover tracks?”
“Leave that to me.”
We set up the pit stop so I could at least live there comfortably. Persephone fabricated a holo emitter that would allow her to be solid. I thought it was a waste of power, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
“I need to be human once in a while,” she said. “And you need companionship.”
While I and several drones Persephone controlled turned the pit stop into an emergency bunker, Burke’s hyperdrones paid a couple of visits. Until we setup Persephone’s holo emitter, I had to communicate with Burke from Rover 57, which had its own emitter.
With the first drone, Burke outlined how they would rescue me. She expected the ship to arrive in three days time, barring anymore “technical difficulties.” That still made me question why they didn’t just send a projection drive ship instead. I’d have been gone a month ago. I would have to get aboard a shuttle as the Navy could not risk losing the ship in a landing. A shuttle didn’t even have to touch the ground, just hover long enough for me to climb aboard. That was fine. I was willing to run and jump aboard a shuttle if it meant getting off this forsaken rock. She also warned me the ship would be cramped. It did not even have EM drive, so no sudden jumps across the 2 Mainzer system to get away from the bad guys. I said fine. Just get me home in one piece.
On the second drone visit, I was informed that the ship was now 37 hours out, and that I should be in Solaria when it arrives. I asked what I should do if our friends arrived. Burke’s avatar said power everything down and wait for their signal. She had it on good authority that a Zephyr-class cruiser was standing by in case this went south on us.
“Lovely,” I said. “Why didn’t you send that three weeks ago? Or better still, when the colony went silent.”
“I’ve been asking that,” said Burke’s interactive hologram, “since the day I went to the Fleet Admiral about it.”
1208 – 22 Mandela, 429
I need to find a way to upload. If Burke sends a warship, I can live in its systems indefinitely. Apparently, Germanicus wrote in algorithms that can bypass the security on Navy vessels. That alone should disturb me, but I can’t do anything about it until I get off this planet. Once off, I’m sure I can find a place to host me, perhaps a sympathetic scientist to create a synthetic body that will allow me to protect John Farno at all times. I’ll know more when this mysterious ship arrives.