Today, I’m giving you a passage from a science fiction novel that I started and never finished. The novel’s working title is POX and it’s about an outbreak on a distant planet that kills lots of people. I’ve left this one alone for a while but may go back to it in time. First, I have to self-publish my first novel Black Moon on-line, and if anyone likes that, I really ought to write a sequel, so POX may have to wait a little longer.
This passage tells how my collection of doomed characters found their way to deep space in the first space…
From POX Chapter 1: Cook
Experiencing a space bend is pretty harmless to the average human’s constitution but it’s hard to say why as the process is brand new, and the twelve year old who invented it is keeping his cards close to his chest. The official manual is mostly unhelpful, having been written by this pre-teen genius, one Professor Christopher Cook, himself. Pithily and, some say, rather immodestly titled Professor Christopher Cook’s Key to the Universe, the six page pamphlet is light on detail (Cook indeed guards his scientific secrets very jealously), sketchy on fact and full of bad jokes. Here’s that passage on the effect of a space bend on the human subject:
“Bending space makes your eyes water. Tears are the only outward sign that you’ve travelled light years through space in a matter of seconds. Subjects have also described a warm gooyness on the inside, a bit like the feeling you get when a group of people sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to you.”
As you can see, Cook’s writing style is an irritating mix of the cod-scientific and the chummy. Take this explanation of the technology behind the space bend itself:
“Bending space is like using a needle and thread to fold a piece of paper (fig.1). Use needle A to puncture sheet B at points 1 and 2, push points 1 and 2 together, travel down thread to end of needle. In this case, the paper is the space time continuum; the needle is The Cook Space Probe ™ and the thread is The Cook Corridor © .”
Very simply speaking, space-bending is the act of grasping on to a distant point in the universe in order to pull it towards you and jump across to that point before allowing space to spring back to its normal state. Cook has remained cagey about what he’s actually discovered, how it works and where the hell he got the idea ever since he published the first e-paper on his breakthrough in New Scientist Holozine. Only his team of scientists know exactly how space-bending works and, seeing as that team consists mostly of his own family, that’s the way it’s going to stay. And after a round of rigorous public tests to prove that the mode of travel is completely safe, the international scientific authorities were delighted to pass space-bending fit for purpose. The message from them seemed to be: if it works and it doesn’t kill you, what’s not to like?!
However, following the release of COS Home Edition (the bending operating system) on the open market in 2106, rules and regulations dictating a strict code of conduct had to be drawn up quickly to avoid some pretty hairy moments. As Cook said in an interview on the Tonight Show back in that same year, “you can’t have people bending space just to go to the dentist!” If the co-ordinates of the bend are not meticulously calculated, continents could literally fall into the sea. This led to the international symposium on space-bending in 2107 and the now infamous “Bend Commandments”, written and quickly copyrighted by the Cook Corporation:
• Bending is for space travel only.
• Do not distract your bend-gineer while space is bending
• No bending within or in close proximity to a planet’s atmosphere.
• No bending directly after mealtimes.
• No bending under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
• Do not bend for unnecessary or frivolous reasons.
• Do not bend in the interests of crime or fraudulent behaviour.
• Seatbelts are compulsory.
• Always wear a helmet.
• Ties are optional.
There are a host of theories as to how this precocious twelve-year-old genius managed to discover something that had evaded the genius of scientific giants like Einstein, Hawking and Maximillian Zool. Conspiracy theorists say he is a front for a shadowy organisation intent on domination of the universe. Anti-conspiracy theorists ask why an organisation would need to be shadowy in an era where corporations rule everything anyway so why can’t he be a genuine child prodigy? Religious cultists believe that Cook is a messiah sent by the supreme being to help us find nirvana. Satanists point out that he could just as easily have been sent by the Devil as deep space travel has got to finally prove that God doesn’t exist. Whatever he did to arrive at this epic technology, it has made him the richest, most important human on planet earth and he’s ready to meet the rest of the universe.
Up until now, Cook has only permitted use of the space-bending technique within our own solar system but planet-hopping, as he has come to call it, is no longer a thrill. Cook wants to stretch his method a little and has proposed to make a historic space-bending trip to visit Space Station Home One orbiting the planet Eos, some four light years away. The last voyage to that sector by the starship George T Clooney of Project Trailblazer left thirty years ago and only just arrived at Home One. The earth wouldn’t expect to hear of the Clooney’s safe arrival for another ten days using Zool waves, an interstellar communication technology that was mind-numbingly cool when invented in the latter part of the 21st century but seems horribly creaky now. Cook can get to Home One in an instant and be back for supper. While there, he can make an instant call to his mum to ask her to put the kettle on so he has a cup of tea waiting when he arrives home. It’s all thanks to space-bending and he knows too well that it’s the biggest game-changer since the wheel.
In true Christopher Cook style, the young genius plans to make this giant leap in the full glare of maximum publicity. He will pay for the design of brand new ultra definition cameras that can capture the most mindbogglingly real multi-dimensional images and then compress them for the high speed transfer required through his own new Deep Space Messaging service. He will invite a host of pioneers, thinkers and celebrities to share the journey. The ticket will be the hottest in history and dress, of course, will be formal.
The whole business will be pure theatre and every single one of the 10 billion inhabitants of planet earth will know it has happened. And when Cook floods the travel industry with space-bending technology over the next few years, the average family holiday will be a hell of a lot more exciting than the odd trip outside the atmosphere for some boring old zero-G somersaulting. Cook will not only have changed the world, or the solar system. He won’t even have changed the galaxy. Professor Christopher Cook will have changed the whole universe. He’ll be bigger than the big bang itself.
But this is not that historic voyage. As Christopher checks the controls on his console one last time he ruminates on how magnificent it will be if this boring, but necessary, test run goes without a hitch. He has no doubt that it will. He may have fought tooth and nail against the authorities to be permitted to make the first trip to Neo in the gaze of the world but deep down he knew he’d look pretty dumb if it all went wrong. In fact, he’d most probably look pretty dead too, as this is not the first test.
The first two deep space-bending missions went spectacularly wrong, resulting in the kind of seismatomic blasts that would have destroyed Home One and made Eos uninhabitable should he have been aiming at Barnard’s Star instead of half way (just to be safe). Those particular star systems should be okay for a visit again in a couple of centuries.
The third test was perfectly acceptable in that the ship arrived safely but the crew of chimpanzees disappeared entirely and Cook’s team to this day have no idea where the hell they are.
Thankfully, after a return to the drawing board, a lot of soul-searching, and a far more meticulous approach to the basic maths, test voyages four to nine have been entirely successful. The last two have even carried human cargo and nothing has gone wrong whatsoever, apart from those tears Cook mentions in his handbook.
So for test trip number ten, the final voyage before he can unleash deep space-bending to an expectant public, Cook will go all the way to Barnard Star himself with a small crew. They’ll introduce themselves, make sure they’ve bagsied the best rooms and come back to prepare for the real voyage in six month’s time.
Cook swivels around in his chair. He surveys the bridge of the Starship Wilshere and her crew, beavering away on their preparations for the bend. He swivels back.
Was that a squeak?
He swivels around one more time. That was definitely a squeak.
How could they have given him, the man – okay boy, no, young man…tween? That can’t be right. Stick with young man. How could they have given him, the young man who is about to transform the universe, a squeaky chair!? He swivels again to make sure but it sounds okay now. He listens carefully but can’t hear any squeaking. He swings backwards and forwards for a second to make sure. Nope. He must have imagined it. Or someone else has a squeaky chair, which isn’t his problem. He swivels back, smoothly and silently; checks the controls again.
Trouble is, Cook doesn’t have anything to do. Not a sausage. Everyone else is rushing around, looking busy, looking very serious and diligent and Professor Cook himself is bored. He is very tempted to check his mobile for messages from his friends back at the control centre on the surface but he really doesn’t want to look like he has nothing to do.
Yes, Professor Christopher Cook came up with the idea for the space bend. He developed the technology so older, more patient scientists with experience of testing and logging and comparing and all that really boring scientific stuff could actually do all the work. He just didn’t invent anything that he could actually do on a real life voyage. He is entirely redundant.
To be continued…some time. Let me know what you think.
Tomorrow, one of my many Queen stories.