“How about now?” Walker asked. He stood in the makeshift control room at the test warp drive touchscreen console. Richmond stood on the other side of the room, before the second console that regulated the energy output from the test singularity reactor.
The room overlooked an underground bay large enough to easily fit two starships the size of Traveler One inside. The cavernous space below held two emitter rings immense enough to attach to the alien spacecraft, dividing the hangar up into thirds. Thick cables ran from both rings to the power banks set up along the wall directly below the window. As the power came on, the space between them began to shimmer. The rudimentary warp field formed.
“Power levels are stable,” reported Richmond. “I’m bringing them up.”
“Not too far. We just need to check the field synchronization, not close a warp bubble inside the room.”
“I’m stopping at ten percent for now. Is that good?”
Walker considered for a moment, reviewing his mental model of the field interaction. “Perfect,” he replied. “See, you don’t need me out there in space at all,” he added facetiously.
“Of course not!” She grinned and said ironically, “I can do this myself on a completely unfamiliar ship configuration just as easily as I can on a reactor and interface that I designed from the ground up. I love your faith in my abilities!”
Walked laughed. “Okay, this is it. I’m initiating the program to synchronize the fields. I’d really like to meet whoever wrote the original version of the code so I could explain to them why it’s bad.”
“Oh, I already did that,” shot back Richmond. “They don’t work here anymore.” Her tone remained light, but the timbre of her voice hearkened back to what must have been a frustrating, difficult situation.
“Good. I’d hate to trust both our lives to the last iteration. With the sections I’ve rewritten, though, it should work fine – at least if we can get this test to run successfully.” He tapped the console once more and initiated the synchronization program.
The two of them had been at this for more than a week, following the entire month it took them to rewrite the control software and modify the warp system to work with the new double emitter ring. Stabilizing the two fields had proved a challenge, even though on the surface the problem seemed simple. The precision needed for the power flow left little tolerance for deviation, since the fields had to resonate on exactly the same quantum frequency. Not only that, they needed to maintain it for the entire two-day trip back to Earth. Walker could see why the idea of fitting his drive to existing ships had been abandoned. Even if he could make it work for one trip with the alien craft, he doubted it could ever be made completely reliable and immune to spatial distortions.
“This test is looking better,” noted Walker. “What did you do?”
“I’m adjusting for the precise difference in the distances between each ring and the reactor relay,” replied Richmond, sounding distracted by what she was doing. “And… that should do it. Are we stable?”
Walker checked over his readings. “Yeah,” he confirmed, a little surprised. “It looks good.”
A cunning grin crept across Richmond’s face and her eyes shone. “I’m going to forty percent.”
“Wait. Are you sure?” he questioned, but before he could finish the sentence his colleague had slid her finger with a flourish across the surface of her console.
The low frequency hum began to intensify as the space between the rings started to bend. The glow between them was brighter, wilder, but at the same time more coherent. “That’s it,” Richmond said softly, more to herself than to Walker, as she gazed out through the window at the warp field. “You’re beautiful.”
And it was. Walker checked the readings, then checked them again. For all that he would have proceeded more carefully, perhaps raising the power level ten percent at a time, the field was holding. If it held at forty percent he was relatively certain that it would work at full power.
“It’s working. How did you know?” he asked, turning to Richmond.
“There’s a feel to it, when the power relays work just right,” she replied. “Remember, you only built the prototype drive. Since I got the singularity reactor working I’ve been here running trials on the unit for the actual ship. If you want to see something amazing now, hit it with an electromagnetic burst.”
His brow furrowed. “Is that safe?”
“Yup. Check it out.” She gestured to her console and brought up a control he had never seen. She tapped it deftly, and as the icon responded a surge of rainbow light filled the hangar below. Walker held his breath, waiting for the light to subside, but as it did he realized the field was still present and stable.
“So what just happened?”
“The one thing your calculations missed, Evan,” explained Richmond. “Don’t get me wrong, you never studied multiple emitter sets so you wouldn’t have known, but there’s a sort of threshold to warp field barriers. As two fields approach the same frequency the tidal forces peak, but once the frequencies match up, the two fields bind together and take just as much energy to separate as they do to unite.”
“Like beats between tones in a piece of music,” he said thoughtfully as the pieces fell into place in his mental model. “Of course. It has to work that way.” He nodded to himself, pleased that his model now made sense.
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