Chapter Two – Generally Sound

There is a saying, one that will be familiar to anybody with even the slightest grasp of the English language; ‘If a tree falls in the Forest and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ The answer to this of course is ‘yes’ as many a lumberjack will tell you; however with no trees on-board a ‘death moon’, this question is rarely posed. Instead, a similar saying, that holds a striking resemblance was coined by an officer in charge of ‘J’ section’s defence protocols, and a key member of the section’s amateur philosophy society. That saying goes something along the lines of… ‘If somebody is crawling through an air duct full of rat traps and there’s nobody on duty, does it make a sound?’. The answer to this has just been found out in sector J-98; and answer to which is of course ‘yes’.

Although the Death Moon in question has over 2.5 million rat traps, there has still been no hard evidence of any kind of rodents. The traps were purchased in bulk the previous February, when the Chief death officer’s wife claimed against all video evidence, that she had seen a large brown rat in her lounge, and that it was not, as some suggested, her husband’s hairpiece.

Meanwhile, on one of Pluto’s less hospitable moons, there lies an old and supposedly abandoned penal colony. In the dusty ruins a number of people in lab coats are doing horrible things to science. One of the cleaner coats is at present being worn by Cassandra, a promising young scientist who graduated bottom of her Quantum Astrophysics class; having never bothered turning up for exams starting before noon as she was never apparently enough of a morning person. She was however, one of the brightest and most bored minds in the universe; working as the assistant to lead researcher Falworth, because it involved less manual labour than her other 76 job offers. She constantly wears large red Headphones, sometimes going weeks without playing any actual music. Spending her time writing massively complicated sub atomic equations in the hope that people would be too afraid to ask her to explain her workings. This took surprisingly little effort for Cassandra, leaving the rest of her mind delegated to remembering scenes from her favourite childhood cartoon shows, mixed in with brazen day drinking she had set into a comfortable routine she hoped to ride out for several decades.

Cassandra looked down at what she had written this morning, she had long since solved the problems that were assigned to her earlier that week but felt it would be unfair to the others and herself if she let anyone know. The equations on her desk are currently the workings of a probability matrix, designed to calculate an estimate of the least amount of work she would be required to do and still be left alone. It was only half done as she’d dropped her favourite pen onto the floor and had spent the last 3 hours trying to pick it up with a single bare foot. She knew this could take all day, but decided to give it another hour before introducing another foot to the equation.

Cassandra suddenly felt a surge of unease wash over her, correctly guessing that somebody had opened her office door.

“Mmmm! Mmmm! Mmmmmmmmm!”

Cassandra sighed.

“MMMM! MMMM! MMMM! MMMMMMMMM! MMMM!”

She knew from extensive experience this wouldn’t let up anytime soon and reluctantly removed her headphones.

“CASS! CASS! Ahh good Cassy; how far have you got along with Quantum Foam Stabilization?” asked Professor Falworth in an excited tone with just a hint of desperation.

“almost finished Professor.” lied Cassandra effortlessly.

“Brilliant, come find me when you’re done I think today’s the day.”

Cassandra considered chasing him down with her finished formulas; she quite liked Falworth, he was a short, fat and borderline senile, self-proclaimed genius with almost no bodily hair, Falworth spent most of his time eating boiled sweets and trying to remember where he put his calculator; more importantly, he always neglected to mention her desk whiskey. Cassandra however, didn’t like how excitable he sounded at present; that meant change and change meant trouble, so she slipped off her other sandal and went back to the task at hand.

The complex was originally used to house some of the solar systems more dangerous criminals, murderers, slavers and unlicensed psychiatrists. Cassandra was reminded of this every time she made the long dark trek from her office to the briefing room. She liked that her job was in a prison, it made the metaphors about confinement of work so much easier. What she didn’t like however, was the overbearing atmosphere of hopeless inevitability that seemed to linger on every surface and some of the  older furniture. She came to the end of a row of cells, a neat corridor which she had always assumed was death row due to the tidier and more loved appearance.

Stopping and removing her headphones, she took a deep breath of stale air in a faint attempt to compose herself to whatever senile madness lay beyond the reinforced metal doors.

Whatever brief moment of serenity she could muster was thoroughly ruined by a large metallic clanging sound echoing through the facility behind her. Living in a confined area solely inhabited by very old and very single professors, she was used to the feeling of being watched, especially in the shower; this was different. She glared back at the darkness hoping to make it share her discomfort. After a few very uneventful moments, sanity took back control and she swiped her key card.

Cassandra was amazed, the ‘briefing room had until now held that name out of respect to its original intentions a few hundred years ago. Its current use was usually a place to enjoy a guilty second breakfast and nap, a much loved daily tradition for the majority of the faculty. However, as the large metal shutters were raised, she was greeted by a rather more depressing sight. Huddled around the long oval table under a large hologram of several moving geometric shapes was the entire research team, feverishly shuffling papers around anxiously fiddling with their calculators.

The last time they had all gathered since day one, was when second assistant research operative Woltersom convinced the crew he had mastered the art of baking; holding a small party which cost them weeks of research time due to widespread food poisoning and 2 cases of digestive systems shutting down all together out of sheer confusion. But now, all 19 scientists found themselves together, crammed around the table muttering, each more excited than the last. Cassandra sulked over to Falworth who was running his hands through non-existent hair mumbling something about the atomic stability of extraneous tissue mass.

“Here it is Professor.” said Cassandra, calmly pushing a piece of paper into the large unsorted pile that had accumulated in front of Falworth.

“Thank you my dear.” replied the Professor, not lifting his eyes from her paper,  darting them back and forth he began energetically typing into a panel on the desk.

“Let’s see if this ruddy thing holds shall we.” bellowed the Professor as the hologram started convulsing angrily into almost impossible shapes. The mass of grey haired poorly sighted scientists leaned into the table staring at the chaos shouting encouragement. Unlike the others, Cassandra knew exactly what to do, she moved quietly to the back of the room, and poured herself a rather large drink.

Cassandra knew this was indeed ‘the day,’ and not just because for the first time in weeks someone had remembered to restock the ice machine. What she didn’t know, was what sort of day ‘the day’ was. She hoped that it would be a short day and she could return soon to her dusty office to lazily draw rude pictures, but she knew better.

Swirling the ice around in her brandy with a long and dusty finger, she pondered on what the team was on the verge of discovering. She would no doubt been told at some point, but usually never bothered to listen.

Cassandra’s recently allocated tasks had involved tackling virtual particles, who had the annoying tendency to pop in and out of existence without much warning. Getting them to pack it in had been a game of subatomic mathematical grandma’s footsteps and had taken the better part of 3 afternoons work. Extrapolating from her area of research Cassandra quickly and correctly hypothesized what the team were about to discover.

After several confusing minutes, the scientists managed to bully the hologram into submission, the shape bent impossibly but was stable. Just looking at it started to give Cassandra a small headache; the room fell silent, even she was transfixed by the floating anomaly. A tranquillity broken several minutes later by lead quantum analyst Crawford.

“It’s only a bloody stable wormhole lads!”

A statement that resulted in much cheering and dancing, which in turn resulted in several pairs of false teeth and glasses falling onto the floor, somewhat killing the mood as 19 old men began slowing crawling along the floor blindly sweeping the ground.

It cheered Cassandra up immensely, enough to allow her to ask the question that started burning inside her along with the 20 year old brandy. She sidled up to Falworth as he dusted his teeth, giving them a quick blow before popping them back into his mouth.

“Now what Professor?”

“Ahem, well, now my dear we wait for the General, I sent him a message yesterday saying we would have results by this morning; thankfully he seems to be running late.”

“Good thing too,” added Willmitzer, the oldest member of the colony who was now, almost more beard than man. “we might be able to grab a spot of lunch before he gets here” he added, pottering over to the fridge.

Before Cassandra could enquire as to how or even why a general was needed, a loud hiss swept over the room, marking the opening of the large defensive airlock on the far side of the room. A door largely unused by the scientists as it was the start of the long walkway to the docking stations, which due to their perpetual hermit like stasis, most of the team had long since forgotten even existed.

The door resisted out of habit but with a large groan it rose steadily, and out of the darkness came a handful of very large men with very large guns. In an obviously rehearsed motion they took up positions around the room in impressive stoic poses, guns trained on the scientists.

Most of the research team instantly raised their hands up in the air without much provocation “Bugger it.” cried Willmitzer who had already picked out 3 of his favourite sandwich fillings and wandered back to the fridge.

One of the younger and scrawnier looking soldiers moved next to Cassandra, raising his plasma rifle to her face. she could see his hands were shaking, for a moment she was flattered that he saw her as a large enough threat for such fear, but closer inspection revealed his gun was far too heavy for a young man of his stature. His wide pleading eyes peeking out behind his matted dark hair stirred up a small shred of sympathy in her heart.

“Please don’t hurt me.” protested Cassandra in an almost believable tone, taking one last sip of brandy before raising her hands. The soldier nodded gratefully.

“Clear General” barked the largest of the intruders and Cassandra was hit with a strong scent of stale smoke and shoe polish; the General stepped into the room. So heavily laden with shiny medals he brightened up the room considerably. The truth was that most of the medals on General Fletchers uniform were cheap imitations as the weight of all his actual metal accolades would have crippled him years ago.

“Ahh splendid, everything good over there Jimmy?” bellowed the Generals moustache. or perhaps his mouth behind it.

“Ahh yes dad,” cried the soldier still standing next Cassandra; a response that was met with a glare stronger than the General’s medals.

“Uhh, I mean yes sir” Jimmy added nervously saluting the General; though this meant letting go of the gun with his left hand which promptly jumped at the chance to succumb to gravity’s sweet embrace. His remaining hand gripped hard but did nothing to slow the decent and instead Jimmy was pulled down with the rifle. He could do nothing as it hit the floor, and fired letting out a deafening shot showering Jimmy in dust, concrete and shame.

The loud crackling sound of a plasma bolt redecorating the modest tiled floor was too much for many of the scientists, some of whom still had trouble sleeping with the lights off; several broke into tears and a couple had to make a quick retreat to the restroom.

“For God sake boy” mumbled Fletcher, head in his hands “I told your mother you weren’t ready, but oh no apparently I just couldn’t see your potential; I guess because you just hide it so well.” Jimmy looked at the smoky hole at his feet wondering how much asbestos was swirling around in his lungs.

“Stand down boys… and someone take that bloody boy’s rifle off him, he’s the only threat in a thousand miles.”

Several more trips to the bathroom and a quick vacuum later, the General sat around the table with the entire team even  Cassandra who was now squeezed between Willmitzer’s beard and Woltersom’s belly, quietly picking dusty tiled chunks of parental disappointment out of her drink.

Falworth coughed nervously as he ran over the speech he’d practiced in the bathroom mirror the previous night. The General in the meantime, despite the deathly stare of Willmitzer was enjoying a large multi-layered sandwich.

“Well General, it seems we’ve achieved success with the task we set. Following our latest breakthrough after months of hard work, we’ve finally stabilized a rudimentary permanent, useable wormhole possible of sending matter unharmed over immense distances as long as the destination has sufficient base gravitational energy.”

“Good work boffins” replied the General dapping his moustache gently, respectfully pushing his lunch to one side.

“I knew there was a reason we’re paying you, so where is it.”

Falworth was struck with the same kind of creeping anxiety he experienced whenever he used to do freelance IT support. “Where’s what?” he asked tentatively.

“I’m not being thick here am I lads, where’s this wormhole thing.”

“It’s above you.”

The general looked up suspiciously, leaning his head from side to side.

Willmitzer took this opportunity, using several rulers he had sloppily taped together in an attempt to drag the rest of the generals lunch across the table, with the silent nodding encouragement of the scientists sitting closest to him.  

“Behind the hologram?” asked the General eventually.

“No Sir it is the hologram,” replied Falworth.

“it’s a successful simulation” added Crawford.

“Oh, right, just a simulation is it? Sure you haven’t got one locked away in a draw somewhere?” asked the general, realising it was gearing up to be a very disappointing day.  

“Afraid not no, …but, we the science works.” said Falworth energetically.

“And could your wormhole, ehm, connect to a black hole?” The General asked as he leaned over the desk to grab back his lunch, stopping its slow but steady journey across the table; an action met with a few grumbles and a quiet whisper of “bugger it” which Falworth ignored as he considered the possibility.

“Theoretically yes but it would be a lot simpler to create both ends artificially.”

“Hmm… we were really banking on the whole black hole idea Professor, the destination is a little out of the way.”

“And the destination is?”

“Very classified.”

“Right and I suppose you’ll be wanting to send people though it?”

“That’s the plan.”

“Well you might run into a size issue, at the moment any wormhole will have to be under foot long unfortunately.”

“Who decided that?”

“Physics.”

“Oh.” replied the General glumly, wondering if it would have been easier if he had spent the rest of the day in bed and had the research colony vapourised from orbit; it would have made for a significantly shorter report. The mood in the room turned sour as the General solemnly chewed the last of his lunch.

Cassandra was quick enough to realise what was going to happen. 46 weeks of research had just been laid out on the table and the guest wasn’t hungry, in-fact he thought he’d ordered something a bit different and no amount of vacuum foam differential graphs were going to make him bite. Cassandra silently panicked, losing funding from the rebellion was just minutes away and was taking her cushy job with it. Thoughts of the arduous process of job hunting flooded her mind, exacerbated further when she remembered that this was an ‘off the record’ gig so the best she could hope to walk away with after almost a year of work was a company pen with the name scratched off for security purposes. Cassandra tried, for maybe the first time in her life, she actually tried to think and think hard.

The General stood up, fixed his medals and prepared to make his final words quick so he could get back to his ship before the hot water ran out.

“Well gents, I thank you for all your hard work over the months, the rebellion thanks you for your service, I wish things had turned out differently but not every step we make goes forward. I hate to be so negative bu-.”

“SHUT UP.” snapped Cassandra.

Several of the scientists wished they’d actually timed the uneasy silence that followed her interruption as many of the short seconds behaved suspiciously like minutes. Cassandra’s brain was working overtime, part of it still hadn’t realised she’d said anything while the rest was reverse engineering an idea it hadn’t had yet.

Finally, the spinning in her head stopped and all the right pieces fell into place. She looked up at the General who was quite unprepared; he’d never been interrupted before and was unsure of the correct protocol so he slowly sat down, nervously buffing a medal.

“Negative… negative mass, something with negative mass wouldn’t listen to gravity, it would even repel it, we could widen the hole and hold it for hours, even days.” spluttered Cassandra.

“She’s right, she’s goddam right”  said Falworth grabbing a pen and then grabbing another that worked, scribbling incomprehensibly. “If we used exotic matter we could force it wide open”. The group of scientists murmured in agreement.

“We don’t have any though, almost no one has” piped up Crawford.

The General looked off into the middle distance thoughtfully as if he was about to sneeze, then he sneezed.

“Well then Professors, it looks like we’re in luck.”

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One thought on “Chapter Two – Generally Sound

  1. Pingback: Chapter one and a bit | Negative Space

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