Inflation in a Box
Coming and Going
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. Certainly, they couldn't say it in space.
Regardless, this isn't completely true, however, because there's no such thing as a perfect vacuum. There are dust and worlds and dark matter and even things yet to be discovered or theorized. Even if it were a perfect vacuum, the spoiler is that a perfect vacuum isn't stable, sucking into it, from oblivion, things that didn't exist a nanomoment before, before they were to pop back to wherever, again. Probability fields mix with possibility fields until eyes focus on what's in them, collapsing these quantum houses of cards.
In space, in spite of the entropy, there are enough particulates such that you could hear a scream, but only if it were loud and powerful and terrible enough.
One man could never make that happen. Even a whole world of voices screaming wouldn't be enough to be heard in space. Perhaps if it were God screaming...
Colonel Zeppis hadn't thought about God in a very long time. He had been too busy trying to do things that seemed divine enough already. He had met cosmic inflation face to face, but the breakthrough itself had created another mystery. Now that the mechanics of cosmic inflation had been elucidated, how was it possible to put it into a box? Capture it; use it?
Colonel Andrew Zeppis replayed the history of the Inflasion Drive in his head. It was his father, Dr. James Zeppis, who had derived the containment formula, from whose numbers were derived the propulsion that inflation could engender. The son of the father—his relationship with the physicist who made it all possible—played well for the human-interest angle in the tabloids and coffee table top magazines; but the irony was that he never liked his father and, although he came to like his work, son had always resented the time spent away from father.
“Guidance is internal,” the radio chirped. Like my guidance, Colonel Andrew Zeppis grumbled to himself. I was on my own, and now I have come full circle to embrace my father’s legacy.
“The Fibonacci angles are tangential and will soon begin collapse,” the radio added, as a countdown of sorts continued.
Again, his father. The one who figured out that inflation involved the tangential pursuit of an asymptote. It couldn’t be done with established algebra and trigonometry, because the hypotenuse of direction needed to be anchored into a new type of right angle, what his father had named, tongue-in-cheek, a “wrong angle.” Wrong angles of bent 90-degree-paired vectors allowed the overtaking of the Sadaf asymptote with the revolutionary ouroboric equations that caught light’s own tail when reimagined from the formulas imported. Processed and then exported back from higher dimensions (on paper, that is), the faster-than-light in his father’s paper was the stuff of science fiction.
It was controversial, many saying implementing it risked the end of the world or distancing our world from our part of the universe, but these were mostly fanatics and conspiracy theorists. Still, there was much respect for that asymptote in that approaching it was germane to the drive but crossing it was heretical, like dividing by zero. Simply, it broke the rules.
Zeppis the younger was not without his own contribution to the Inflasion Drive, which evolved from Zeppis the elder’s scribblings on paper into the box attached to the craft in which he was strapped. While his father had worked with formulas, Andrew had made it all the way to sitting snugly in his fluid-buoyed seat that would stoke the revolutionary drive that was actual hardware, not speculation.
It wasn't just imagined, but was something that could be turned on. His father made theoretical hyper-light paper vehicles and sailed them theoretically within the safety of his office; his son had climbed aboard the process by which he had outdone his father, to see where Man was heading next. His father talked the talk; he would be walking the walk—very fast. Faster than fast. In fact, it was a quantitative extrapolation of the qualitative fast.
According to the calculations, his approach would slow down his own clock until he crossed the time-zer0 threshold, after which he would become ageless. That’s what happened on paper, anyway. Time would no longer be relevant. He could arrive at a destination not only faster than light, but faster than time: faster than space-time. Perhaps even before he had left. It promised to be quite the ride.
The layperson’s explanation centered on the perfect vacuum, which gave the energy needed for a quantum field to inflate. When the “wrong” angles summated, the drive would vacuate and, well, that was the thing: Col. Andrew Zeppis would be the first. It wasn’t an honorary assignment to celebrate his contribution. It had turned out to be an emergency.
The emergency was an impossibly big object hurtling toward the Earth from hundreds of light-years away. Andrew’s excursion was aimed at the phenomenon that was on a threatening intercept course with Earth. It was fortuitous--if not coincidental--that the Inflasion Drive had come to fruition at the same time this pending encounter became known to the concerned politicians who feared the unknown—especially were it to be big and coming toward us impossibly fast. Unknowns in our own hands, like the novel Inflasion Drive, tend to go down more easily than unknowns totally out of our control, like impossibly large objects hurtling toward us and possibly targeting us.
“How big is it?” the President asked his science advisor. “This thing coming at us?”
“Mr. President, the fact that we can measure it while it’s so far out is an indication of its size.”
“Um,” she fiddled with her hand calculator, “I believe it’s about a million miles.”
“A million miles isn't that far out. That’s not even out of the solar system.”
“Um,” she uttered again, and she closed her calculator. “Not away, Mr. President. Big. It’s a million miles big—give or take a few thousand miles.”
It was a conversation heavily redacted by the time it had been transcribed, but it was the conversation that guided anything the gross national product could throw at Col. Zeppis and his “inflation in a box.”
Andrew Zeppis did not fear for his safety. About the worst thing that could happen, he knew, is that the experimental flight would have him still sitting snugly in his fluid-buoyed seat, unchanged, and perhaps even untraveled. The computations had proven that the Inflasion Drive was an all-or-none action. Some argued it might be both, uniting the two quantum forks in the road that diverge with each difference in every action, decision, or path in the road called the “Physics of Everything,” a quaint term coined when the Grand Unification Theory had been proved. Indeed, these were exciting times to be mathematicians and physicists…and pilots who dug Fibonacci.
There are vacuums…and then there are vacuums. The concept of a perfect vacuum is as mythological as a unicorn, but all inflationary (“Inflasion”) drive dreams came true the day Zeppis the elder attempted to publish his quantum vacuum flowsheet article. Again, heavy redaction ensued: it wasn’t something other militaries should have.
Zeppis the younger was not alone for this maiden flight. He shared the cabin with another colonel, Col. Joey Jackson. Jackson was no stranger to the theory set to launch them in the direction of the juggernaut invader. He had been listed as one of the co-authors with Andrew on the original paper that continued where Andrew's father's had left off. This allowed both of them to truncate their speech, to speak with each other in mere acronyms.
“TLN?” asked Zeppis.
“TLN collapsing,” answered Jackson.
“BTD is nominal.” And so it went, strings of initials and confirmations. There was no actual countdown. It was just when Col. Zeppis said “Go!”
Jackson engaged the vacuummation processes, Fibonacci celebrated from the grave somewhere, and their vessel, First Contact, was off, so named in optimism for what they might encounter when they rendezvoused with their ridiculously large target. For the first time, Man had sidestepped the orderly progression of time and space--headlong and precipitous. And they were accelerating.
Zeppis looked out of the window. They were already beyond the solar wind. He looked about the cabin. Jackson was spaghettified, which was initially terrifying; but he was intact and functioning, as was Zeppis. It wasn’t a horror story, but just perspective. Not a paradox; just parallax.
Zeppis and Jackson communicated and carried on dutifully. When the vacummation was complete, the spaghettification resolved. They looked at each other and laughed.
“How fast ya got, Jax?” Zeppis asked.
“Can’t measure it, Colonel,” Jackson answered. “But our target seems a little, well, ethereal.”
“Ethereal? How so?”
“It’s fading…it’s…my God! It’s gone. We should have met it by now.”
“Did we pass it?” Zeppis asked. “Could we have traveled 240 light-years already?”
“I don’t know. But I’m putting a pinhole in the Inflasion Drive to lessen the vacuum.” The pinhole was slang for an impurity injected into the vacuum that allowed a gentle reduction in power, needed for any change in steering required.
The First Contact reversed direction and watched for its original target. If encountered--and they should encounter it--they might be able to overtake it and reach Earth before it did. That might be all the time there would be if diplomacy were needed. A world depended on such diplomacy.
There was a noise, like gravel, hitting the thick viewing window. It was a smattering, a sprinkling of tiny impacts.
“Space debris,” Col. Zeppis reported. He leaned forward and could see the gravel strikes, which had penetrated through the first of the three pressure layers of the aluminum silicate glass. He injected more impurities into the vacuum nacelle. They stopped. After a few minutes—if their moments could be called that—a pallor came over Jackson.
“Col. Zeppis, we should be where we started.”
“Where is that, Jax. I don’t see anything,” he said, still examining the small dings and the lodged gravel threatening to breach the window.
“At Earth," he reported, then added, "do you think there’s any chance that debris has penetrated the inner pressure pane?”
“Don’t think so. They’re pretty small. And we’re stopped.”
“Where?” asked Jackson.
“Might I suggest you examine the debris with nanospectroscopy. ID’ing the elements may give us a clue.”
“They could be from anywhere.”
“I’m scanning our perimeter," Jackson said. "There are other pieces just sitting. They’re not moving. These are local artifacts.”
“On it, Jax,” Zeppis reported.
Col. Zeppis broke out the spectroscopy gear and stabilized it against the innermost pane of the tripartite glass. Before he could analyze anything, he had to lock in a focus on one of the bits jammed through the potential breach. He ratcheted down the gross focus knob, which displayed in the visual spectrum. He zoomed further, dozens of powers of 10 until the mote came into focus. It was spherical, like most space debris is. He remained silent.
“Do you have a fix for analysis, Colonel?” Jackson asked. There was silence in the cabin. “Colonel?” No answer. Jackson looked up from his monitor and regarded Zeppis. “Andy?” Zeppis lifted his eyes from the gross-focus and turned to Jackson. “Any data?” he asked Zeppis.
“No data needed,” Zeppis informed him, blinking hard, tearing up. “I can tell you what it’s made of without arming the nanospectroscopy.”
“Andy, tell me. Where are we? What’s your conclusion?”
“This tiny crumb is made up of iron and…” and he began sobbing.
“Iron…and? What? What else?”
“Iron and oxides and silicon and potassium and…” he stopped sobbing enough to finish. “…and…North America and Africa and parts of Asia and even some Moon. Jax," he stammered, "we were that huge ship coming this way.”
“How? How is that possible?”
“We inflated, probably 10 to the 26th power by my reckoning.”
“But we saw the large ship—not us, but another, right?”
“No,” Zeppis realized. “It was us, just on the other side of the asymptote. It’s why it disappeared as we passed it. Colonel Jackson, my friend, we’ve made it to Earth, but it’s a bit of a wreck now. That's what happens when something big hits something small."
Jackson buried his face in his hands. “A bit of a wreck,” he mumbled. “A bit...and a wreck...”
That's when they heard it. But it wasn't a whole world of voices screaming, a global agony suddenly silenced. What they heard was loud and powerful and terrible enough to be heard through the imperfect vacuum of space.