The City Among the Stars – Part Four: Discovery
Chief Tycho ate his breakfast and set out for his morning run just as the central light was warming up for the daily cycle. He ran his ten kilometers around the inner circumference of Zerzura and readied for work. He took the tram from the end of the residential sector and arrived in the laboratories of the industrial sector.
Tycho’s assistant, Dr. Murray, greeted him. “Hello, sir.”
“Hello, Joel. Round up the team. We need to decide what we want to pursue.” Tycho affectionately referred to the assembly as the team so it didn’t sound so formal. Tycho’s team gathered around him and he let them know what he had been thinking over. “For centuries now our society has worked toward completing a project started by our ancestors on Earth at the start of the Solar War. Little progress toward a traversable wormhole has been made and it is my belief that the project should be abandoned for more practical methods for expediting our travels.”
The Assembly seemed shocked at Tycho’s words. Rose spoke first. “You really want to abandon our life’s work, Chief Dirac?”
“Yes, I do.”
“But our people have always worked towards this goal. Can we be the one to abandon it?”
“Just because a people have always done something does not make it correct. We must make it our duty to be the best we can be at any moment in time with information we have in that moment instead of being bound to what our society believed five hundred years ago. If we continue our string of failures to create a wormhole, it will be three hundred years before our descendants arrive. If we do choose to abandon it, we will not reach Delta Pavonis in our lifetime, surely that is true, but I believe our children can.”
Dr. Xie agreed. “He’s right. Betting we will reach some sort of breakthrough with the wormhole, tech could keep us at the mercy of Zerzura’s fusion thrusters. Under those circumstances, we are still generations of space away.”
“I know he’s right. It’s not easy wasting everything you’ve ever worked on.”
“It was not all a waste. We are in a position now to make this step through the discoveries we have made. Now we have to make this choice for our children. They can have the opportunity to stand on a planet. We will look into possible reassignment projects and have a colony-wide vote next week unless there are any objections right now.” Tycho looked around the laboratory and everyone was quiet. “Alright then. We will focus on possible new tasks. Antimatter production, propulsion systems and the feasibility of remaining on Zerzura during an expedited journey.”
Tycho walked to his office adjacent to the laboraties and called Murray in. “A magnetic ramjet didn’t come in today. What do you know about it?”
“Nothing. There was no malfunction signal.”
“That isn’t strange to you?”
“No, sir. The ramjets need to collect hydrogen to move and they need to move to collect hydrogen. If they run into a low density area and cannot acquire a net gain of hydrogen, they will go dark, no warning. There are thousands of ramjets collection hydrogen for the Colony. We do expect a small percentage to be lost.”
“I know. We predict to lose 2.3% of operating ramjets per year in theory. In practice, we lose 2.6%.”
“Are you suggesting there is a problem in manufacturing? Beacause I assure you I have been running everything correctly.”
“No, no, Joel. I just want to look into that .3%. You aren’t in trouble. Could you put together a list of all the ramjets lost over the years that did not send malfunction signals along with their projected routes, please?”
“Do you want me to just look at this for you?”
“It’s alright, Joel. Send it to me on Neuro and I’ll take it from there.”
Tycho studied the missing ramjets. He cross-referenced the list with data of hydrogen density gathered by the other ramjets’ megameter journeys through space. Tycho eliminated all ramjets from the list that were lost in known pockets containing a density of hydrogen found to be too low for magnetic ramjet operation. He then eliminated any machines with past mechanical work on the ionizing laser, the electromagnet, or the magnetohydrodynamic generator; malfunctions in any could cause the ramjet to lose power without warning. He looked for a trend.
Tycho soon noticed an identical path taken by the remaining ramjets, barring a few anomalies. The all pointed directly behind the Cylinder. Towards the solar system. Tycho removed the anomalies from the list. These ramjets had departed at four times: 2:34, 4:44, 9:23, and 14:53. Tycho thought about the coincidence. This four minute window was .28% of the day. A .28% chance for any ramjet to take the solar flightpath. It must have been an error in the ramjets’ code.
But this flightpath was too coincidental for Tycho. This bug could be a relic from the Zerzura’s construction in Earth’s orbit. A Solar Colony spy could have written it in five hundred years ago. An enemy in the solar system could use the ramjets to keep tabs on the exile colony running from the Solar War. For hundreds of years they thought their location was unknown to the enemy.
Tycho thought about the implications of this possibility alone in his office. The news Zerzura receives of the Solar War is ten years old being ten light years away. If Earth was not victorious, they would and now could be hunted down. Tycho knew he had to communicate. He looked at the scheduled ramjet launches. In three days, there would be one leaving at 2:34. He would tell nobody.
“Chief Dirac are you going home?”
“No, Joel, I’m going to stay late tonight and work on this bug. Goodnight.” Tycho waited late into the night for the ramjet to arrive and unloaded its harvest of hydrogen. He then manually inspected the machine before launch. He entered a message into its miniscule onboard computer.
I am Chief Tycho Dirac. I wish to speak to you about your spy program.
Tycho let the ramjet launch at its scheduled 2:34. He knew he was probably messaging nobody, and even if he was, it would be nearly two decades before the ramjet reached the solar system and another decade still for a reply. Tycho began to walk back home as the last tram departed at 2:00. He walked out of the labs into the agricultural sector towards the residential sector and thought about what this meant for the Colony. He knew he could never tell them. There was no benefitting from fear. But there had never been a secret in Zerzura before.
Tycho walked through the agricultural fields with his flashlight. The small flashlight was powered by a magnetic bubble created below the fields that followed Tycho’s NeuroFiber as he walked. The light was able to produce a current through electromagnetic induction, drawing its power from Zerzura’s power grid.
Tycho was walking through the fields of wheat when the alarm sounded from the industrial sector behind him. The red glow from the laboratories made the wheat look like fire. Tycho ran back towards the labs. An alert came across NeuroFiber: Unplanned Ramjet Arrival. Dr. Rose, awoken by the alert, asked Tycho over NeuroFiber what the problem was.
“I’m still in the lab. I’m working on fixing that bug in the ramjets’ code. Apparently it didn’t work. I’ll figure it out.”
Tycho sprinted through the glowing crimson fields toward the blaring alarms. He entered the industrial sector to see the ramjet sitting there. He ran over to it and opened its computer. His message had been changed.
Hello Chief Dirac. We’d love to talk.
Tycho sat on the gray floor in front of the ramjet port and thought. He looked at the point the ramjet departed from. He then programmed the flightpath for two more ramjets. One carried his reply to that point in space. The other bypassed it and followed precisely the line between that point and the solar system.
more by KRAMER LINDELL
photograph by passmil198216