“All I’m saying, is it shouldn’t work,” said Sub-Lieutenant Vaughan.
Abov-Lieutenant Park replied, “But it does work, you see it working right now.”
“So you have to accept that it does work,” asserted Park, “Right?”
Vaughan nodded. They sat quietly as the ship they served on, the SMC (Space Merchant Craft) Hina comfortably defied the laws of physics and hurtled at faster than light speed across the inky blackness of space.
“But it really shouldn’t” reiterated Vaughan.
Lights flickered on the cramped flight deck.
“Could you just let it go?”
“Listen, I’m no physicist-”
“-Then maybe stop right there.”
Vaughan shifted in his heavily padded acceleration couch, sighed, and muttered, “It just doesn’t make sense.”
A holo-screen flickered on the console.
“My brother married a wonderful person but cheats on them. Every chance he gets. Explain that to me,” said Park as she tapped on the holo-screen, stabilizing it.
“I never met your brother.”
“He’s not a good guy. I love him, but don’t lend him credits or leave your significant other with him.”
“Why are you telling me this?” asked the Sub-Lieutenant.
“Because,” replied the Abov-Lieutenant, “Something doesn’t have to be understandable to be true.”
“I mean… I guess?”
“So you agree?”
The thrum of the Ionic Accelerator-Drive changed its pitch.
“SAY IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT!” shouted Park.
Vaughan jumped, as much as he could, being strapped into his acceleration couch.
“Yes! Yes, yes, yes!” he yipped.
As if hearing what it wanted to, the sound of the Ionic Accelerator-Drive returned to normal. Additionally, there was an awkwardness that
now permeated the flight deck. Park knew he had to deal with that.
“This is your first assignment, right?” asked the Abov-Lieutenant.
“And I’ll bet your instructors just did a lot of hand waving about the Ionic Accelerator-Drive, right?”
“First, you can speak, okay?”
“Second, I know they also avoided your questions because of guild rules, proprietary technology, and legal blah de blah blah.
“I got the same runaround. They’ve been singing that tune since the Ionic Accelerator-Dive was first used,” said Park with a faint smile.
“Didn’t that bother you?”
“But you got over it.”
Vaughan waited for this pearl of wisdom that would illuminate the mystery. But the only thing he heard was the ping, beeps, boops that comprised the soft background noise of the SMC Hina accompanied by the deep bass of the Ionic Accelerator-Drive.
“Can you tell me how?” asked Vaughan who was wondering if this was some sort of hazing of the new guy.
“Let me tell you a story that was told to me, very early in my career,” said the Abov-Lieutenant.
Vaughan made a noise. It was not a patient one.
“I was about to ship out for the first time.”
While Park was only about five years older than Vaughan, she spoke like an old space jockey, when she wanted to.
“Me and my newly minted Sub-Lieutenants were having a celebratory drink at Phobos Station. Of course, we were all excited about heading into the Dark for our first time. After a while, we were all pretty drunk.”
“What does this have to do with-” began Vaughan.
“Abubububuah!” Park stated emphatically, “Neither of us are going anywhere. Except to Proxima Outpost, but we won’t get there for a while. So just listen.”
“So, as I was saying, we were all pretty drunk. It was at this point that Jorgenson, one of my best friends a very curious person asked this, ‘Do any of you wonder how the Ionic Accelerator-Drive works?’”
Park now paused, Vaughan suspected for dramatic reasons.
“Given our pickled state, we all had opinions on this and were about to launch into our theories when were interrupted by an old man with a cyborg eye, a robotic claw for a right hand, and a shock of white hair. His name, we would later learn, was Takashi Concord.”
“Is that supposed to mean something to me?”
“Oh, it will. As I was saying we were interrupted by this grizzled stranger. He fixed us with his cyborg eye and said, Have you pups ever heard of the Lexington Aurora? None of us had. Not a surprise, muttered Concord, they’d wanna keep that secret.
“Now this was the sort of thing we were warned about, some old coot filling our hard drives with corrupted data. However, as I said before, we were alcoholically compromised so we listened. Old Concord pulled his chair up to our table and began to tell his tale.
“This was in the early days,” begun Concord, “When Dark weren’t all cluttered up like it is now.”
“Excuse me!” interrupted Vaughan, “Are you telling me a story within a story?”
“I am,” responded Park.
“Can’t you just tell me the story?”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because it would take less time.”
“Again, where do you have to be? Other than where you are right now?”
Vaughan had no response.
“Okay, I’ll continue then. Or should I say Concord will continue.
“The Lexington Aurora was one of the early FTL ships, not as shiny or fancy as the ships you lot will serve on, but she was as sturdy as space is cold. They don’t make them like that no more.
“The crew were all experienced, and in those days that meant that they had all been out at least once. May not sound like much, but FLT travel was pretty new, so doing it once, and making it back alive meant you knew what was what, if you take my meaning.
“So the Lexington Aurora is about three weeks out, heading to Barnard’s Star, when one day in the mess, a junior navigator, name of Lawrence asks his crewmates, how do you think this Ionic Accelerator-Drives works? Well, the rest tell him ‘Very Well!’ Then they all had a good laugh about that.
“Now Lawrence, he’s the sort of person who once he gets thinking about a notion, he can’t just put it aside. So he continues to talk about physics, the fundamental laws of the universe, and so on. Except now, his crewmate ain’t so amused. Spacers are a superstitious lot. Ironical given how its science is the rock on which their livelihoods are built but the Dark can do funny things to a person.
“They tell Lawrence to keep his fool mouth shut before something bad happens to them all. Of course, he tries to argue but they suggest he get some bunk time. And when I say suggest, I mean they frog marched him there and made sure.
“During the third shift, a power-coupling blows. Now that ain’t unusual but after that, old Lawrence is now bad luck on two legs, as far as the rest of the crew is concerned. Aside from being given orders, no one will talk to him. A sensible fella, he’d keep his head down, do his job, then when he got to port, would request a transfer and pray for a fresh start.
“But this fella, he cannot let it go. Since no one would say a word to him, he starts keeping a log about his thoughts and theories and whatnot. Funny thing is, little accidents keep happening, and guess who is everyone thinks is responsible? Now Lawrence is feverishly writing about how he’s afraid for his life. How the crew gives him what he describes as murderous stares as he passes by.”
Park took a sinister pause.
“Well? What happened to him?” asked Vaughan.
Park continued in her Concord voice, “The Lexington Aurora never made it Barnard’s Star. When then were reported overdue, a rescue ship was sent out to find her. The way I heard it, the whole ship was turned inside out. All hands lost. Even the data in the black box was corrupted. So if you want to theorize about what makes us go faster than light, best be stayin’ planet-side. That’s my advice.”
Vaughan gazed out of the front of the flight deck and watched the stars streak by. After a moment, he said this.
“I have so many questions about that story. Is that supposed to scare me? If the ship was ‘turned inside out with all hands lost’, how does anyone know what happened? Why didn’t they tell anyone at the academy about this? Why did you have to hear it from some old, cyborg coot? Not to mention-”
“Slow down there!” interjected Park, “Before you say something you’ll regret.”
“But-,” began Vaughan.
“You have to accept the fact that we are traveling faster than the speed of light. Correct?”
“And just because we don’t understand the particulars of that process, doesn’t make it not work.”
“Now there may or may not be holes in the story that Takashi Concord told me and my friends. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be learned from it.”
“Whatever you believe, the story I shared with is more memorable than faulty parts or human error.”
“Agreed. But what about-”
“Here’s the thing. It’s possible to talk yourself out of anything.”
“It’s ridiculous to think that doubt can affect a spacecraft.”
Just then, an odd clank was heard from somewhere deep within the Hina.
Park gave Vaughan a meaningful look.
“Then again,” Vaughan admitted, “maybe not.”