Schoolchildren at Tyson Kindergarten got a surprise treat when famous Quantum Ship Captain Marco Chung visited their classroom. Marco is most well known for being the oldest person in existence after having been displaced in time due to his career spent traveling the galaxy.
The children were quite curious about a man who was born even before their own great-great-grandparents were conceived and wanted to know just how old Marco really was. Marco tried to explain why “that’s not a simple question.” He then told the class that he needed to first clarify with them how space travel actually works.
“In the universe,” expounded the veteran astronaut, “light is as fast as you can go. Nothing can go faster. But you can’t just jump right into going close to the speed of light, you have to ramp up so you are traveling at a speed that equals Earth’s gravity, and then add that same gravity, and then add it again and again and again. The idea is to create a pressure from the ship pushing towards the passengers that makes it feel like you are experiencing the same gravity as Earth, even though it is not gravity at all, but is actually linear acceleration.”
As Marco went on with his detailed diatribe, teachers, administrators, parents, and students tried to jump in, but he would not be thrown off course. Being the foremost expert in the field based on time and experience alone, Marco apparently had quite a lot to say on the subject of how traditional spaceflight works using conventional special relativity. In deference to his elite status, they all eventually demurred and allowed the aged authority to continue elucidating in the best way he saw fit.
In due course, Marco explained, the ship would reach 99% or more the speed of light, but never 100% as that would require infinite energy. But even at that speed, the nearest colony in the Proxima Centauri system is around 4.3 light-years away. Summarizing all of this, Marco finally tried to engage the group by asking, “Given all of those factors, who can tell me how many years it would take to reach Proxima Centauri from the perspective of an observer on Earth?”
The kids’ eyes had completely glazed over. That is, the ones that were still awake. Some had nodded off as Marco had gone on and on, and now the ones that were conscious were quite scared that something was expected of them. They knew they had been asked a question, but had no idea what the answer could be or how to even approach answering it. One child could be heard whimpering, nearing the point of culminating into a loud, uncontrollable cry.
Thankfully, a teacher jumped in and explained to Marco that they were very young and that these concepts were beyond them. “After all,” the teacher said, “they haven’t really started multiplication yet!” At that, she went over to the weeping child in an attempt to reassure them.
It appeared that something finally clicked in Captain Chung’s head as he straightened up and declared, “Ah, right, right.” At that, though, Marco unrelentingly continued and told the participants in the room that it would take just under six years from an observer’s perspective on Earth, but that was not what the person on the spaceship would experience. For them, it would be just over three and a half years.
“And that,” declared Marco, “is why I am both old and young at the same time. You get it?”
The dumbfounded minors could not believe that this elderly-looking man was young in any way, and certainly missed the point. Nor did they seem to realize that their question was only partially answered, and still not in a way that they could process. And most of all, they didn’t appear to notice that Marco was apparently done with his visit and was getting ready to stand up and leave.
The principal did realize this and started clapping, prompting a similar lukewarm response from the students. After that, the principal prompted the children to thank Captain Chung, who looked equally as perplexed by the showing of gratitude as they were by his presentation.
The above piece is an excerpt from the speculative hard science fiction novel Compendium of Humanity's End by J.P. Prag, available at booksellers worldwide.
Learn more about author J.P. Prag at www.jpprag.com.
Compendium of Humanity's End is a work of mixed fiction and nonfiction elements. With the fiction elements, any names, characters, places, events, and incidents that bear any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental. For the nonfiction elements, no names have been changed, no characters invented, no events fabricated except for hypothetical situations.
About the Creator
J.P. Prag is the author of "Compendium of Humanity's End", "254 Days to Impeachment", "Always Divided, Never United", "New & Improved: The United States of America", and "In Defense Of...", and more! Learn more at www.jpprag.com.