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Lust on the Way to Vega
By M.R. Leenysman
Copyright 2017, M.R. Leenysman
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December 12th, 2109, Earth
Cairo Sendet activated two hover-cameras, letting them focus on the two occupants of the room. Colonel Darius Sullivan was the first member of the Proteus mission who had been willing to talk to a member of the press in the year since they had gotten home. Cairo had a long list of questions, sure to drive her hit count.
Otherwise ignoring the recorders, she started, “Happy 85th birthday, Colonel.”
“Please, Cairo, call me Darius. I’m only 85 on paper. The doctors tell me my biological age is still only 25. Younger than you, I believe. Although, with the relativistic effects of traveling at 90 percent of light speed, I effectively only spent 26 years in stasis and one year awake, out of our 59 year voyage.”
“I will come back to that. First, the crew of the Proteus has developed a reputation for avoiding the press since your return, Colonel Sullivan. Could you explain that for my audience and why you changed your mind to talk to me?”
Sadness crept into his smile. “I chose to speak mainly because of my birthday, to get across the idea of being time shifted like we are. As for why we haven’t allowed interviews before this, wouldn’t you be quiet, if it turned out that the mission you had dedicated your life to making a success turned out to be completely irrelevant? We said goodbye to everyone we knew, knowing that most would be dead before we returned. 59 years sacrificed, for nothing. We got back, with all this survey data on Vega’s planets, only to find out that Earth had already established a colony on Vega-4 22 years earlier without needing any of the information we gathered.”
“Because the jump drive technology was invented during your mission?” Cairo asked.
Darius said, “Especially because the first ship to use it launched after our departure from Vega. We left Vega in 2079 on the calendar, not even knowing that Earth was researching the new technology. There was no hyperlink station at Vega then, for obvious reasons, and we were just then getting light broadcasts from Earth from 2054. The earliest of our transmitted data didn’t start arriving on Earth until 2103, the last the next year. We arrived back at spacedock just 4 years after our data.”
Cairo jumped in with, “The Vega-4 colony was founded in 2086.”
Darius frowned at the interruption, then continued, “Right. We were two years into our return travel when the Kincaid jumped from Earth to the outskirts of the Vega system in a week’s time in 2081, then made another jump and established an orbit around Vega-4, regathering the same information we had collected so the colony could start 5 years after that. If the scientists had succeeded just three years earlier, the Kincaid could have come to get us during the survey portion of our voyage and at least saved us the 29 years of the return trip. The other survey missions launched around the same time as us were to stars from 5 to 15 light years farther away, so they arrived to find an Earth ship already there, in some cases with a colony already in place.”
“Why couldn’t the Kincaid come after you after getting to Vega?” Cairo asked. “Jump ships are faster, right?”
“Yes and no. Technologically, they both rely on the metaverse that the physicists discovered back in 2035. They just leverage it differently. The power systems on the Proteus drew energy from that universe to let us accelerate continuously and power our shields without having to carry fuel.”
“And the Kincaid?” Cairo asked.
Darius answered, “Jump ships like the Kincaid open a portal into the metaverse big enough to fly into, travel through the metaverse under its different physical laws using a separate set of engines, then open another portal to reenter our universe. It’s important to understand that the distance they traveled inside the metaverse imparts no velocity in our own. They exit with the same velocity they entered. So, to match our speed, they would have to accelerate the same way we did, in our universe. One advantage jumping gives them is that instead of trying to start from Vega and catch us from behind, they could have actually jumped ahead of us, then accelerated towards Earth, matching our speed at the same time that we overtook them. Hopefully without colliding into them.”
Cairo asked, “So, why didn’t they?”
Darius answered, “I’ve actually talked with Malcolm Harris, the captain of the Kincaid at that time. They had several reasons, from less powerful engines for our universe that would have taken longer to match our speed, to a lack of stasis equipment that would have meant the crew had to age by several years to accomplish it. But the biggest problem is they wouldn’t have been able to signal the computers on the Proteus to wake us up from stasis to participate in the docking. They would never have been able to do it alone. In the end, the Kincaid did the only thing it reasonably could have done, let us come back to Earth as originally planned. The rest of the sub-light crews were returned to Earth between 10 and 20 years before us, never even doing their surveys.”
“Without their ships,” she added. “Yours was the first interstellar crewed mission to leave and the only of those ships to return.”
Darius said, “Cairo, there’s not much prestige in being the only one of those ships to return to Earth, when the data we returned was worthless and our friends and family died off in the meantime. I would much rather have gotten back sooner.”
“Is that resentment I hear?” Cairo asked.
Darius said, “Regret, at time lost to a circumstance that only arose because Earth had a technological breakthrough at a time that didn’t help us. Nobody on Earth did anything wrong in sending those missions and what happened was what we expected to happen, when we signed on for the mission. Can we talk about something else, please?”
“You mentioned that you spent only 26 years in stasis, while you were away for 59. Can you explain that difference for our audience?”
Darius said, “It’s an effect of special relativity. The closer a ship is to the speed of light, the slower that time passes inside it. At our top speed of 90 percent of the speed of light, 2.3 years passed outside for every year inside. Within the ship, 7 months passed during acceleration, 11 years and 7 months while remaining at our top speed, 7 months slowing down. That adds to 12 years, 9 months ship time, 29 years outside, to travel 25 light years. Add in the year spent around Vega doing our survey, then repeat the same coming home, and we were gone for 59 years, the ship’s time was 26.5 years, in stasis for 25.5 of them. Boosting to .99 might have gotten us back to Earth a few years sooner, but since we weren’t going to age in stasis anyway, the mission planners chose to avoid the higher risk of collisions that .99 would have brought.”
“And yet, I have heard that it was a collision that almost doomed your mission.” Cairo leaned forward, saying, “And resulted in three babies being born on board the Proteus, while you were in the Vega system?”
“That’s supposed to be classified, Miss Sendet,” Darius said.
Cairo shrugged, “It’s even harder to keep secrets now than when you left, Darius. It’s going to come out, once the secret classification gets stripped from your ship’s logs, any day now. I know several Senators wrangling for just that. Wouldn’t you rather you be the ones to tell the story?”
Darius’ smart watch beeped. He looked down at it, and saw the text he received from his crew-mates, who he knew were watching the live broadcast. They had gotten wind that Miss Sendet had this information, so were prepared for this.
Darius said, “Not on live air, Miss Sendet. I will tell you the story, but you will definitely want to edit some parts out for your audience to hear. If you broadcast it at all.”