by Brian Matthew Kessler
Table of Contents
Day One -- Welcome Aboard The Helminth
Day Two -- The First Wormhole Would be Approached
Day Three -- Another Wormhole Jump
Day Four -- The Wormhole Would be Very Early in the Morning
Day Five -- I Woke Up Too Early for My Tastes
"I would like to now welcome you aboard The Helminth. I am Captain Grebo Selbi. Please have your tickets ready when you get to the portal. The stewardess will hand you a map of the ship and on-board computers can help you if you need it. To save yourself from embarrassment, I suggest you empty your pockets of all metal before you get to the metal detector. Anyone interested in a tour of the ship can meet me in Cafeteria Alpha one hour after lift off. Anyone who has not flown on a starship using a Xesky Translocator must report to the safety orientation lecture two hours after lift off in Cafeteria Alpha; anyone who does not show up will null their insurance policy and will not be able to make any claims in the event of an accident. A bulletin passed out every morning will state the time of expected wormhole entry, the current progress of The Helminth, what entertainment will be available for the day, and state if there might be any possible trouble, such as asteroid fields, magnetic fields, high radiation levels from nearby stars, etc. and what preparations to make if any. A daily newspaper is available at the gift shop."
As of a week ago, I have been the captain of the first luxury starship to use the Xesky Translocator, The Helminth, owned by CCTech, Inc. Its maiden voyage is set for two hours from now, and anyone with 1,342 certiga was able to buy a ticket, although it is now totally sold out. Our destination is the leisure world of Nephelococygia. The trip should last about five days, with three journeys through the wormholes, lasting four hour, three seconds, and one day, respectively.
After two hours of greeting people as they boarded and another hour of taking pictures of the children and answering absurd questions --proving that most passengers slept during physics class-- I finally met with the interested passengers in Cafeteria Alpha. I began with a lecture on the history of the XT.
"In the late 1900's, 'Stephen W. Hawking of the University of Cambridge, Sidney R. Coleman of Harvard University and others suggested that just as electrons can suddenly 'tunnel' from one spot to another, so can space-time itself. The tunneling of the space-time creates wormholes, which can lead either to other points in the same universe or cul-de-sacs called baby universes or to other universes as large as our own.'
"About one hundred years ago, the top scientists in the known universe proved this was correct. Furthermore, they began work on how to transport men and machines through these wormholes to other planets, believing this means of travel to be much faster than the then current means of locomotion, the Zenowby Star Drive. Also, they considered that it would significantly decrease the rate of time for radio transmissions if they were sent through the wormholes.
"About ten years ago Dr. Xesky finally succeeding in developing the Xesky Translocator. For the first five years, only machines were sent out to map the multiverse. Any attempt at transporting sentient life through the wormholes resulted in complete unreversable amnesia. Then Dr. Xesky developed the Xesky Helmet which allowed minds to travel through the wormholes with no apparent side effects. The Xesky Helmet only needs to be worn during the journey through the wormholes. As you know, such journeys can take from an infinitesimal to an infinite amount of time."
Then I held a Question and Answer session. The only significant questions asked were by a young scientist, Dr. Aldes Tronvaw, who had been on the cover of Science Here & Now magazine for his efforts at trying to devise a machine capable of changing the physical laws applicable to limited amounts of space, in hope of being able to create a field around a space craft which would allow light to travel at speeds of 1000c or more. He had succeeded in creating such fields in areas that were less then a cubic meter using a generator that ran on one gram Detraxoid IV but it exhausted its power supply in less than 5 seconds. The accomplishment won him the Reftiran prize in nuclear physics, but the massive costs proved it would be impracticle to use, not to mention that the radiation levels became too high to safely remain about a starship using it.
"What is the theory behind the Zenowby Star Drive?"
I replied, "About 150 years ago, Earth time, Dr, Zeng Zenowby established that the speed of light was proportionate to its distance from a body of 'star mass' proportion and then invented a 'gravitometer' which enabled a ship to avoid them as much as possible."
"How did Xesky come up with the idea for the Xesky Translocator?"
"Dr. Gesro Xesky discovered that an object moving extremely close to the speed of light could enter the wormhole if it was aimed directly at the opening."
"What do you mean by 'possibly infinite time'?"
"Although no such wormholes have been found, some scientists speculate that wormholes may exist in which traveling even at light speed, it may take eons to reach the other end, if there even is another end. Such wormholes are thought to lead to entirely separate multiverses in which no known laws of physics need apply."
Curious as to why he asked such questions --he certainly knew the answers-- I asked, "Dr. Tronvaw, why you are asking?"
"I was hoping you would slip so I could make a fool of you. I must congratulate you on you knowledge of the physics behind this ship. I did not know it was a requirement for the captain to know this."
"Thanks for the compliment. It is not a requirement, however, I like to know about such things so I read up on them."
I showed the passengers the other four cafeterias, one on each deck, and told them the cafeteria food served here was atypical. I showed them the gift shop. I showed them the movie theatre. I told them "There are five movies playing: Turbo Tech III, The Return of Egg Head, High Density, The Robot Who Talked Too Much, and Lifetime Warranties. All had excellent reviews from the critics; in other words, they all suck, to put it crudely and mildly, but the admission was part of the price of your ticket to The Helminth." I showed them the rest rooms. I showed them the game room. I showed them the bridge. By the time the parents finished taking pictures of their children in the captain's chair, it was time for the safety lecture. I lead the tour group back to Cafeteria Alpha.
After a short apology for my late arrival for the lecture. I told the passengers where to find the escape pods and how to use them. "The escape pods each hold ten men. They will not launch until they are full or the emergency escape sequence is typed into one pod by a frightened officer. The pods hold enough oxygen for one day and will head for the closest habitable planet at light speed. They also will have an automatic distress beacon that will signal, unless the override code has been entered by an officer on the specific pod. Why he would do so, I don't know. The only real flaw is that the pods do not have their own Xesky Translocator; it is just too big and too expensive to put in each pod. If you are forced to eject while travelling a wormhole, you won't be able to travel or signal for help. All ships travelling the wormhole will be travelling at close to light speed and would not notice the pod even as they fly through it." All passengers already knew of this flaw in the escape pod since laws required that all passengers be advised before purchasing a ticket for any ship which travels the wormholes.
Next, I warned the passengers about the consequences of failing to wear the Xesky Helmet in the wormholes. I told them, "You shall be warned one hour before wormhole entry. You will be reminded one half hour later, then again in another 15 minutes, then again in 10, then in five and every minute leading up to entry. During the final minute a countdown would be given."
I ended the lecture with another question and answer session and told the passengers where to find me if they needed me.
After concluding the lecture I returned to the bridge. I checked the list passengers. There were 47 vacancies, 14 in first class, 16 in second, and the rest were third. I announced over the ships speakers, "We have 14 vacant first class rooms and 16 vacant second class rooms. You can change to a higher class of rooms for 132 certiga for each class you move up. They will be distributed on a first come, first serve basis. See my secretary in my office if you are interested."
I took a two hour nap before dinner, and then walked to Cafeteria Beta, claimed a table, and got on the long line. I do not believe in abusing my position as captain, and do not let my officers cut in line either. I found myself standing behind Szebor Slemtac, a short, slightly fat man, dressed in a business suit. He was a president of Infinity, Ltd. He asked, "Why do you work for CCTI?"
I replied, "I enjoy this job. The pay is good and I meet interesting people."
"But doesn't it bother you that they hold a monopoly in almost all fields of electronic, communication, and trans-portation equipment destribution and the use of such?"
"Why should it? CCTI is not a company which crushes the underdog. They will proudly adopt any company which is interested and capable of pulling their share of the weight. Their control brings them enough money to do research which would not otherwise be possible, such as the funding of the research which created the Xesky Translocator."
"But what about the underdog who wants to remain independent? They do not have the money needed to compete on such a massive scale."
"There is more profit in joining CCTI then remaining independent and if you can pull your share of the weight, you get your due credit, so you make as much of a name for yourself as you deserve. Rather than criticize my decision to work for CCTI, why don't you contact one of CCTI's presidents and discuss a merger. I am sure you can come to a reasonable agreement and if you do not, well there was no harm in trying."
"Thanks for the advice, but I do not want to sell out to CCTI. My grandfather put a lot of money into starting Infinity, Ltd. and I mean to keep control within my family."
"I am sorry, but I can not help you, my position on the CCTI corporate ladder is really relativerly low and being that I agree with CCTI's position, I am not sure I would help much even if I could."
At this point, we were at the food. That day's menu consisted of exotic meals from Hoywad Itrasda. After eating, I returned to my cabin to continue reading Redshift Rendezvous. An hour later the nightfall simulation was initiated and an hour after this I fell asleep.
I woke the next morning at about 6:00 am. The first wormhole would be approached at around 1:pm if everything was one schedule. I took a shower, got dressed, and went to Cafeteria Beta for breakfast.
The breakfast menu had standard fare. I decided to have Lateria Toast with a side order of felbish. Except for other crew members, the cafeteria was empty. I finished my breakfast and went to the bridge to find out if anything noteworthy had occurred last night.
The first officer assured me that everything was going fine. I thanked him and went for a walk through the hallways. A woman stopped me in the hall and said, "I read in this mornings bulletin that the first wormhole trip would be later today. I was wondering what precautions I should take, other than wearing the Xesky Helment before entry."
Annoyed that she had not completed reading the bulletin --it stated such information-- I told her, "It is not a good idea to eat rich food before travelling through a wormhole as that tends to induce wormhole sickness, unless you enjoy nausea. Make sure you know where your helmet is, run a systems check on it, and check for any signs of tampering. If you suspect tampering, report it to an officer immediately. Otherwise, put it on your head."
She continued on her way and I continued on mine. Nothing eventful occurred before lunch. I ate an old fashion hamburger with a side order of fries and a Deasty to drink.
When I finished it was twelve noon. My first officer issued the first warning for wormhole approach. I went to my cabin and retrieved my helmet. I went from cabin to cabin, checking to see that the passengers were all wearing their helmets. As the warnings were issued, many passengers became more and more tense, not knowing what to expect in a wormhole. Finally it was time for entry.
If you have never been in a wormhole it can be a very strange experience. All light travels at a wavelength of 5152 angstram, which puts everything in a shade of green, the only variation being how much light travels away from a given area. The less light, the darker it would be. It was like looking at the world through a green monochrome monitor.
Also, all sound travelled at the same wavelength, so sounds would all be monotone, varying only in intensity. While I am not sure of the wavelength, it made everything sound like it was spoken through a computer attempting to immitate a mouse's voice.
When both the wormhole and The Helminth pass through a large object at the same time, you can often feel it for a fraction of a nanosecond. For example, you feel a great deal of heat while passing through a star. Because the time which passes during the passage is so short, no harm is done, but you can still feel the effect. This is called universal shadowing. Most universal shadows which humans can feel are caused by stars because most other objects are too small. You pass through them too quickly for them to register on all but the most powerful of computers.
There was one other unusual thing about the wormholes. The "worms". Discovered shortly after wormhole travel became popular, these are long visible objects that transmit a frequency of 6243 angstroms. Consequently, they are seen as red. They seem to have a mind of their own. Other than visual devices, they can not be detected by any means. They seem to be living in the wormholes and to the best of our knowledge do not exist outside the wormholes. They are somehow attracted to the Xesky Translocator, so large numbers of them can usually be found in the area of the Xesky Translocator. Their significance and origin in the multiverse is completely unknown. Why they should appear to be "worms", many millennia after the term wormhole came about was among the strangest of coincidences.
The four hours in the wormhole quickly ended and nothing happened other than a few cases of wormhole sickness. The quick change in sight from green monochrome to color and the quick change from monotone to polytone almost always disturbed me no matter how many times I went through it. I could tell by the look of others on board that it disturbed them just as much.
After a journey through the wormhole, I am always hungry, and it was a bit past 5 p.m. anyway, so I went to Cafeteria Beta for dinner. They were serving food from Lasdoria V. I ate my food, returned to my cabin, continued reading my book, and went to sleep.
I awoke at 6 a.m. again. There would be another wormhole jump at 11:30 a.m. This one would be just a small annoyance since it would only be for a few seconds, but it would be more than enough time to wipe out someone's mind if they didn't wear their helmet. I washed up, got dressed, and went to Cafeteria Beta for breakfast. I chose to have Grebiax Waffles with a side order of Lidgex.
I went to the bridge, checked with my first officer again who confirmed that nothing noteworthy happened. I went on my usual walk. 10 a.m. rolled in and the warning was sounded. I again checked that all the passengers were wearing their helmets. 11 a.m. came and we entered the wormhole. Before it even registered that we were in, we were out. A few more cases of wormhole sickness came up, but that was to be expected. Nothing else that was special occurred. I decided to have an early lunch, opting to eat a good old fashioned hot dog with a Deasty.
Dinner came around. That night we were served Chinese food. It had been quite awhile since I had any of that. I chose to eat wonton soup, spare ribs, and shrimp and lobster sauce. As usual, Chinese food gave me the runs, so I spent an hour on the toilet, reading my book, before I went to sleep.
I woke at 4 a.m. This day's wormhole journey would start at 8 a.m. and last until about 8 a.m. tomorrow. I had to make sure everyone was awake since it was impossible to sleep while wearing the Xesky Helmet and the wormhole would be very early in the morning. I took my shower, got dressed, and reported for breakfast. I had a cresaunt sandwich with eggs, cheese, and felbish.
I ate it quickly and began my unpleasant task of waking everyone up at 6 a.m. After much verbal abuse, I finished just in time to hear the first warning issued. All went well until immediately after entry.
As I walked the halls, I noticed that about one tenth of the passengers had blank stares on their faces. They were struggling to crawl, seemingly unable to walk. The sounds they uttered were like those from a new born baby, not what you would expect from full grown adults. If this had been just one person, I would have passed it off as a malfunction of the Xesky Helmet, but this was a large number of people. It had to be sabotage, by a professional, since there was no sign of tampering on the helmets.
I immediately sounded the warning sirens and called for an emergency meeting of the crew in my office. I told them what I observed. We could only come up with one reason to sabotage a luxury star ship: a competitor wanted to make CCTI look bad in order to further their own potential profit. We called up a passenger list on the computer. We checked off the list of people who were victims. We crossed off anyone who had neither motive, nor know-how.
We only found one person with a motive, Szebor Slemtacm, but he did not have the know how, at least not according to our files. He only held his position in the company because of his blood line. Other than this, or perhaps because of this, he was almost a complete idiot.
The only person we found who clearly knew enough to do it was Dr. Aldes Tronvaw, but he had no motive, especially since our files showed he was being offered a position in CCTI which would give him 3 million certiga a month. This would give him more money than almost anyone in the company, except Dr. Xesky, the presidents and vice-presidents. He had no relation to any employees of Infinity, Ltd., which could not afford to offer him that much in one year, let alone a month.
We were back at square one, with no suspects. We decided to interview the passengers to ascertain if they saw anything. We had our chief engineer inspect the helmets of the victims for signs of tampering. We worked until 4 p.m. without taking a lunch break. Nobody saw anything and according to the chief engineer, the helmets were still perfectly operational. And I was hungry.
We concluded that the victims must have been drugged, but an examination by the doctors, which was completed by 6 p.m., found no sign of drugs or physical damage to the brains.
The monotony of the monochrome and monotone was getting on my nerves worse than usual. It was not making our investigations any easier.
At about 9 p.m. one of the engineers reported that he noticed an unusually high number of "worms" around the Xesky Translocator. They were surprisingly active. Having little knowledge of "worms", it was impossible to know what they were doing or why they were doing it, but it was clear that some activity was taking place. They were swirming around and twisting about each other as well as the Xesky Tranlocator. They numbered at least one hundred, and more were coming.
I decided that there has to be a connection between the incapacity of the victims and the high "worm" activity. At 10 p.m. I paged Dr. Tronvaw to my office. Despite his being the best mind on The Helminth, he could not offer a suggestion for either incident.
At 10:15 p.m. another set of alarms went off. They signaled a failure in the main Xesky Translocator. Still another signaled a failure in the backup. The ship came to a sudden stop. There was no period of deceleration, despite that physical laws would have required it outside of a wormhole. Without a Xesky Translocator, movement became impossible for the mass of the ship, but because of a property built into the ship's design, it was possible for us to move things inside the ship. This was the only thing which left us with any chance for survival.
Even though we no longer had an operational Xesky Translocator, the "worms" continued to gather around it, as if it was still working. Although the ship was no longer moving, every instrument reading said that the Xesky Translocator was still working. That seemed to indicate that the gathering of the "worms" around the machine stopped it from functioning without doing any actual damage to the Xesky Translocator. I told the pilots to shut it off and see if the "worms" would leave.
I woke up too early for my tastes and it was way passed my bedtime. I was both tired and aggravated. I had too many problems to think clearly. I needed food and sleep. It was impossible to sleep with the helmet on, but the least I could do was get some food. I went to Cafeteria Beta and ordered a broiled lobster and Deasty. Afterwards, I had a black coffee.
At 1 a.m., I was told that most of the worms were gone. There was something strange that they left behind though. There was a yellow slime covering the Xesky Translocators. Imbedded in the slime were glowing blue spheres. Anything approaching the spheres caused orange lightening to come out. We threw a piece of food at the spheres and it was blown to bits.
Dr. Tronvaw suggested, "These may be 'worm eggs' and the Xesky Translocator may be an ideal breeding ground for them. While the radiation emitted from the Xesky Translocator has no effect on anything while in a universe, it has an obvious effect on the wormholes and obviously effects the 'worms'. Perhaps it is 'worm food'. Conceivably it is the mating season and the 'worms' have their young near a large source of food so they won't starve. It may be that the yellow slime absorbs the radiation to keep the food supply where the eggs are and by absorbing the radiation, stops the ships movement."
At 3 a.m., after studying the "eggs", Dr. Tronvaw reported, "Upon further examination of the 'eggs', I have discovered that they have enormous mass, each possibly having the mass of an entire universe. Also, they seem to fold in on themselves. Once they get small enough, I suspect that they will each explode causing a re-enactment of the big bang, right aboard The Helminth."
Under different circumstances, I would have loved to witness the creation of the universe. However, as it was, this would blow up my ship, along with my passengers, and myself. I did not find this to be an acceptable fate.
At 5 a.m., the medical staff reported that people who had not initially suffered from amnesia with the entry of the wormhole now seemed to be developing amnesia at a rate proportional to the condensation of the spheres.
I decided it was time for another cup of coffee. I could no longer think straight. All my thoughts were fading into a haze. I went to look for the pot of... what do you call it? Where is that pot? What is a pot, anyway? Where am I? What am I doing here? Who am I? Help? Mommy?!? I...