A Message to the University, from Dr. Howell

You can also listen to this story Here.

Hello? Hello? Data is being received, according to my end. I hope someone is listening over there.

Apologies for the synthesized voice, but this was the only comms system we could use that could reach the university on short notice. Oh gods, I wish I could use warp-comms instead; that would make this so much simpler. I might be a little distracted, but this is the discovery of the century! I always thought it was just something people said; you know, a turn of phrase or something like that. But we’ve tested it and it works and it works better than I imagined it would.

Ah, Dr. Monroe is telling me I’m getting ahead of myself. Calm down, Harper. Calm down. Even if this is the single most insane thing in the history of science.

Alright, I should start at the beginning.

We had a hypothesis we wanted to test. We were drunk at the time, you see, so really, it wasn’t the most well-considered thing in the world. But by the time we were sober and nursing hangovers, we had a design. I’m not 100% on how we got to that design, but all four of us — that is, Dr. Hassan, Dr. Monroe, Dr. Tanaka, and myself — recalled bits and pieces of how we got to this or who thought of that idea. For a hypothesis that we conceived of while drunk and theoretically shouldn’t work.

We didn’t really do anything with it at first.

I mean, we all agreed that most of the design was theoretically sound. Harnessing the forces generated and diverting it through a starship’s propulsion drive worked. Even drunk out of our minds, we somehow designed it to be sound from a practical and functional perspective. All that was really out of place was the core of it, the source of the energy the drive would convert into pure speed for the craft.

It wasn’t really until about two weeks later when Dr. Tanaka tested it out. We were all on sabbatical then, but she’d insisted on staying behind. She never explained her reasons, but we learned not to question her. When we came back, she looked like she hadn’t slept in about three days, our tools were in disarray, some of our equipment was reporting data that couldn’t have been real, and she’d completed what we designed.

And before any of us had the wherewithal to ask her what happened, she said the words that changed everything: “It works.”

We didn’t believe her, not at first. You should hear her scoff at us being so excited right now, given that detail.

We didn’t believe her. Until she demonstrated. She’d rigged together a small model with some toy cars off the fabricator that she wasn’t supposed to be tampering with. Not after that incident with the gerbils.

When she demonstrated it with just the tiniest scrap, something so small she needed precision tools to even place it in the right spot, we were stunned. That demo took off like it was fired out of a railgun meant for orbital bombardment. And that was just a fraction of the pure speed that could be diverted.

Sure, it disintegrated not long after, but that’s beside the point. As Dr. Hassan pointed out after we all gathered our collective wits at Dr. Tanaka’s smirk, the demo unit wasn’t designed to handle that much acceleration. But a starship, even one built for interplanetary speeds rather than interstellar ones, should take it in stride. If we could get our hands on something built to handle a gravity well or event horizon slingshot maneuvers, we could theoretically double the output.

So you see, we had to try.

Of course, to try, we’d need some manner of ship. And it wasn’t like any of us were rolling in enough energy credits to buy a stellar yacht on the fly.

We did have access to the university hangar bay, and Dr. Monroe had a few hours of amateur flying experience under his belt. I was always more of a tinkerer, though not enough to have ended up an engineer. Still, we reasonably assumed that we could get the job done with minimal risk to ourselves. The old clunkers in the hangar bay were sturdy things, built to take some of the worst their pilots and crews could do to them.

Besides, it had long-ranged comms. Not the best comms, but ones that were fast and reliable. In case we did run into any trouble, you see.

We did the due diligence, of course. We double-checked the specifications and did some tests. Every system still worked. The plating on the hull was sound. Nothing was missing. We just had to take out the existing Neo-Newtonian drive and replace it with a less ramshackle version of what Dr. Tanaka built. It was still based on the existing design and we still didn’t know why it worked. Though once you get past the source of the acceleration, it’s really running off quite sound scientific and engineering principles.

That process took about a week and a half, counting the testing to make sure we put everything together properly. And that one test where we put in just a tiny scrap of fuel to see if it would work, provided kindly by Dr. Hassan. Or unfortunately, given the nature of what we used as fuel.

It didn’t go far, given it was a miniscule amount. But it did accelerate within our expected calculations. Alright, so it exceeded it a little and may have dented one of the other ships in the hangar bay. The one that’s a decommissioned atmospheric air superiority fighter.

Ah, apologies. Dr. Monroe insists I call it what it is. The F-99 Jade Falcon.

Personally, I always liked the M-137 Wolf. But I digress and Dr. Tanaka reminds me we do have a time limit on this message.

Once we were sure everything was sound, we got some basic supplies and gave it a proper test run. Without the university knowing that was what we were doing. I would apologize, but given that we’ve just guaranteed the next few decades of the interstellar physics department’s funding and the possibility of government grants, I think there’s no need for that.

I feel like I should mention that we didn’t consider momentum stabilizers inside the ship until after we launched. The design of that old clunker did keep us from becoming delicately-patterned stains of formerly organic material and Dr. Hassan’s cybernetic arm due to the sudden acceleration, but it was rather uncomfortable for a while there. I am pleased to say we did calculate that, once the material ran out, we did calculate the estimated distance within an acceptable margin of error.

The problem was that, since none of us was fully in control of the ship due to the lack of stabilizers, we didn’t go where we intended to go. Thirty point six seconds of travel and enough distance to go from the university’s hangar bay to Ampersand Observatory.

Yes, that Ampersand Observatory.

Yes, the one that’s in orbit around Proxima Centauri.

We covered the distance between Earth and Proxima Centauri in less than a minute.

Unfortunately, as I’ve pointed out, we weren’t in full control and were off-course. We knew it was the off-season for the observatory and no one would be there to help us out. We could easily generate the fuel to get back under these circumstances, but we didn’t want to risk going off-course and accidentally colliding with Luna.

Or missing Earth entirely.

So that’s why we’re sending this message. We do hope to get a reply from you soon. We have supplies to last us a week and, if necessary, we are willing to risk trying to go back. But we’d very much prefer not to do that.

Oh, right, right. Apologies, Dr. Hassan just reminded me I never mentioned what it is that we’re using to generate such ludicrous speed.

You’ve heard the expression bad news travels fast, I assume? I think everyone’s heard it.

As it turns out, bad news travels faster than light. And we’ve built a drive that can harness that speed.

Speaking for Dr. Hassan, Dr. Monroe, and Dr. Tanaka, this is Dr. Howell signing off.

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2 thoughts on “A Message to the University, from Dr. Howell

  1. Not bad, not bad. I wonder if this would count as comedy or parody, or if one could really consider it a more proper sci fi? I suppose, were it a longer story, it would depend on how the fuel source was treated, both in the universe and within the narrative. Either way, it certainly makes it different, because the first part seemed familiar for some reason, to at least one other tale of making faster-than-light travel. Not sure why.


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