Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part LXXII: Glimpse

This page Copyright (c) 2017, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt

19 Secondmonth 564JR
20 January 2362CE
Epsilon Indi system

The problem turned out to be a resonance between the two Marsten Fields, which Jenny had not accounted for in her mathematics. "And that's why you insisted on an automated test flight," Danner reassured her.
"It should be fixed now," she answered, though she was still upset. The energies she had released were comparable to the relativistic weapons dropped on Sherrington VI. Trying to make a faster Drive, she may have created a terrible weapon.
She mentioned as much, and Danner told her, "There are millions of family aircars throughout Known Space that can drop kinetic weapons from orbit. There are tens of thousands of starships flying at this very moment, every one of which can recreate the Sherrington Atrocity. People are not that evil or that insane, except for a handful who can be hunted down and killed by the rest."
She lifted her eyes and smiled at her ship-brother. "Well, now we need a new test rig."
"Hal's already slapping one together." Cohen was writing off the expenses, the loss of Pecos and the recycled Marsten Devices used in her Blain Drive. He would be getting a share of whatever was paid for whatever the Family ended up with - and since the last time he dealt with them, since word got out about the Trojan Star-Horse, his business and wealth had more than quadrupled, and he could pick and choose his customers. He now had three Balloon Worlds, linked on a common axis. He would gladly give Blain, Danner and Aurora a half-dozen ships to test to destruction.

The next test ship was Penny IX, another worn-out tanker. She was slapped together as Pecos had been, with an updated Blain Drive.
The next series of test flights was excitingly uneventful. 320c... 342... 377. The Level Transitions ran like clockwork, the Transition EMPs back to realspace were only slightly more powerful than conventional Marsten Drives. On Penny's fifth flight she broke 400 times equivalent lightspeed.
The Giant Fauxhares showed some distress, but couldn't describe what they were feeling. The piece of Aurora running Penny couldn't feel anything to describe. It was time for a living, thinking person to ride the Blain Drive.
"Risk..." Danner said, to his Family assembled in Aurora's spin-weight salon. "I can't order anyone to make this flight. I'll go."
"Sol..." Jenny took Sarah Heusner's hand in her own. "Sarah and I are the logical choices. I invented the thing, and she's the hottest pilot any of us know of. If anything goes wrong, the two of us, together, are the only people who could come out of it alive."
Jack put his arm around his wife and said, "I'm going to have to insist on going along. I can't let Jenny go somewhere she might not come back from, without me. And if something breaks, I'm not so bad with a wrench."
Aurora's hologram moved beside Solomon and said, "My Captain, their logic is sound. Also... it is difficult enough to watch my sisters and brother go where I may not follow. I do not want to lose the man who brought me back to life."
Hlossh and Grbblb, blood-brothers and Jenny's Engineer's Mates since the formation of the Family, demanded to go along as well. Trllbl naturally demanded to go with her husband. Ralph and Delilah offered to go along in case of medical emergency.
Danner put his Captain's hat on and his foot down. "No. Jenny, Jack and Sarah. Period. That's risk enough, and too much. I won't have all the rest of my Family coming out of hyper in pieces."

Penny's bridge had been slapped together too, and wasn't even pressurized. Three acceleration couches in a triangle, pilot forward, engineer and assistant flanking, consoles wrapping around each, slabs of salvaged armorglas arranged in a canopy more for psychological comfort than real safety. Jack, Jenny and Sarah wore their suits.
The first-level Transition, to what was now being called Marstenspace to distinguish it, was as smooth as any Aurora had ever made. Penny's instruments showed a speed-equivalent of c160 - slightly above average for the Sixth-Generation-Improved, to be expected from a Drive tuned by Jennifer Blain. For a few minutes that went on, as they'd all experienced hundreds of times, while Jenny carefully charged the Blain Drive.
Jenny set a ten-second counter for the second-level Transition, then held her husband's hand. In front of them, they each placed their free hands on one of Sarah's shoulders. They all watched the counter tick down....

Jenny Blain was in a stinking bed in a flophouse, dropping Juice on her tongue. Someone was beside her, doing... something... to her.
For some reason she had a sword, a Republic midsword, marked with the logo of a ship she'd never heard of: JRS Aurora, hull number CL63. She remembered loving ships. She thought about looking this one up in her 'puter, but she'd traded that for more Juice months ago.
For a moment she thought of selling the sword, to get a few more ampules - but no, any desktop fabber could make one. It wouldn't be worth a single fix. No, that was not what the sword was for.
She raised the sword, reversed it, set the point over her heart, and pulled-

Jack Epstein was on the docks in Haifa Station, his first job, pushing a pallet-jack across the spin-weight deck. He was behind schedule and hurrying.
The stack got away from him. He tried to recapture it but it was far too massive. He watched in horror as it careened toward a passerby, a pretty girl with brown hair and eyes and pale skin. The stack came apart, and he realized it was hydrogen fuel bottles for aircars. He suddenly knew they were full - they couldn't be, that was against all the regulations.
The first bottle skidded along the deck, striking impossible sparks against the non-ferrous composite, and then it ignited-

Sarah Heusner was a cub, safe and warm in her mother's arms. Her mother smiled down on her, and she knew love. {Kri'La,} her mother said. That was her name. {Kri'La.} Her mother held her close, gently rocking and humming a tune.
There was a loud noise, and her mother's face changed. Kri'La didn't understand. The house shook, the ground shook. {Mama,} she cried, frightened. {Mama!} But her mother did not answer. Something was wrong with her face.
The door flew open and two other beings entered, a Human and a Nikar. They had no faces, but the Human had pink skin and brown hair, and wore gold stripes on the shoulders of his white shirt. The Nikar's scales were grey, except for two thin red stripes starting at his forehead and running down his back and all the way to the tip of his tail.
The two beings produced knives, and came closer-

Penny IX had been programmed for a Blainspace flight of ten seconds. She then automatically Transitioned back to Marstenspace.
Her crew came back to themselves, shuddering with horror. All three vomited in their pressure suits, whose waste systems collected it before they could drown. Since there was no pressure in the cockpit, they couldn't open their visors for relief. They'd have to suffer until recovery.
Penny's program continued running, and after one minute, Transitioned back to realspace. Aurora was waiting.
Aurora's robots had to carry the three back to Aurora. Sarah flinched and showed fangs at the sight of her brothers, Prrg and Solomon. Jenny began crying at the sight of the midswords they wore. Jack was withdrawn, unresponsive, turning his face away from everyone. All three were weak, barely moving.
Delilah and Ralph brought them to Aurora's sickbay, and requested some boost-weight. Solomon lit Aurora's torches and put on five meters of acceleration, back toward Cohen's Shipyard in the system's Alpha Belt of asteroids. Eventually the three members of Penny's crew slept.

Jenny was the first to wake, with Solomon beside her, holding her hand. Her husband Jack was in the next bed, breathing evenly in sleep, and Sarah on an Eyani couch beyond him. Jenny reached across with her other hand to take Jack's. "Sol... it was...." Tears fell from her eyes. "'Terrible' is too weak a word. It shows you your worst nightmare. Real memories, but twisted, wrong, mixed with things that never happened, couldn't happen." Solomon, an amateur of history, had long ago read about the Transition Addicts, spending their fortunes chasing the hallucinations caused by Transition Effects. He had shared the centuries-old texts with Jenny, to help her prepare for the test flight... and most of the crew had reported having visions during Aurora's various Close Transits, when field strengths had overcome the protective energies.
"Those problems were solved, Jenny. And you are the greatest living genius in this field, likely ever. You'll find the answer."
Shuddering, she asked, "What about Penny?"
"Charlene is jumping her back toward the shipyard. No evident damage. Data is on your 'puter when you're ready."

Sarah woke next, and recoiled at the sight of Solomon, snatching her hand away from his, flashing her fangs. Looking around, she struggled to integrate her vision with her true memories. Hesitantly, she reached out to touch Solomon's hand again, then threw her four arms around him. "Kri'La," she cried. "My name is Kri'La. I saw my mother! I saw her die!" She broke down in sobs. Solomon held his non-Human sister tight.

Jack woke shouting, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Jenny was at his side, embracing him.
"Look at me," she said. "Jack! Look at me! Remember who I am!" She took his face in both hands. "It wasn't real, my sweet. Whatever you saw, it didn't happen. This is real, I'm real, we are real. Remember us!"
Jack stared into his wife's warm brown eyes, then held her close.

With the medical need for boost-weight past, Aurora Transitioned the rest of the way back to the shipyard, and the Family gathered in her spin-weight salon. Jenny insisted on sharing what she had experienced. With her courage as an example, Jack and Sarah did the same. The rest of the Family's faces showed sympathy, mixed with horror. They were thinking about what Blainspace might have shown them. "We need to suppress this part of the development," Jenny stated. "Otherwise we'll have a whole new generation of Transition Addicts. As horrible as it is, some people would seek it out." As a recovered addict of another kind, no one questioned Jenny's position.
Solomon asked, "Any ideas for a solution?"
Jenny nodded. "I'm digging into archives, old designs, all the way back to the First Generation and Enterprise's first hyperspace flight. Aurora's libraries, and the Net, have Rachel Marsten's original handwritten notes. Nora Gaines' firsthand account too, video of her describing what she saw and felt. Not as bad as... mine. I've also been digging through some of the Transition Addicts' reports, because some of them bought their own ships and deliberately de-tuned them to intensify the Effects. Most of those disappeared, as expensive suicides.
"But mainly I'm looking at the development of the Drive through the Fifth Generation, when the Transition Effects were mostly eliminated. I'm pretty sure I can start with what was done between the Fourth and Fifth, and extrapolate to figure out the solution for the Blain Drive."
Trllbl spoke up: "My sister, you are aware the Glaut species used drugged hibernation to endure Transits in their early hyperdrives. Perhaps additional clues can be found in an examination of their old technology."
Jenny cocked her head and blinked, recalling what she knew of pre-Contact Glaut Drives. "That's... a really good idea, Trillbil. Thank you." She flipped her 'puter on and began another Net search. "And... Northerner." Examining the damage done to the derelict ship, and its effects on her crew, might also prove useful - looking at the equations from the other end.

Meanwhile, the power team was having their own failures and successes.
Having been Cured of his alcoholism, Tetsuo Fukuwa's own genius was returning, picking up where he left off in the development of a new superconductor. Likewise, Alice Rabin-Fujitomo kept refining the design of the Helium-3 reactor, presuming the superconductor would be available.
The reactor was descended from Miles Hawthorne's ancient breakthrough, a compact Tokamak. Once ignited, with laser compression, the fusing plasma went round and round, contained and guided by magnetic fields, through magnetohydrodynamic coils to generate electrical power. The design had worked for centuries with deuterium, but the Helium-3 reaction was far more energetic, with the potential to generate far higher currents - just what was needed to Transition to Blainspace.
Alice's fabbery began turning out Tetsuo's superconductor in useful amounts. These were placed in test stands and fed current from a regular hydrogen fusion plant, all that could be given. They would burn out, Tetsuo would adjust his formula, the fabbery would make another batch, and they would be tested again.
Some eight hundred hours after Tetsuo had been Cured, he had a product that could hold all the current a hydrogen plant could throw at it. Aurora's Engineer's Mates, and robots loaned from Aurora, got to work building a Helium-3 plant around it. With Alice having spent hundreds of hours on the design, it was to be the same size and shape as a hydrogen plant - a drop-in replacement. The power feeds would have to be replaced though, with Tetsuo's new material, and the torches for use in realspace would have to be reinvented to match. Trllbl had been studying, and began work on the torch by herself. She said it would be possible to boost a ship beyond the tolerance of its organic crew, well over 100 meters, more than ten Terran gravities. Acceleration for missiles, using disposable fusion rockets, could exceed a thousand.

This progress was shared with the Drive team, and contributed to Jenny's solution. With old-style superconductors, enough Marsten Radiation had been leaking through the Blain Drive to cause severe hallucinations. Prolonged exposure - a single typical Transit - would probably have led to brain damage and death. With the new material, the Blain Field could be adjusted and strengthened to stop the leakage. Further adjustments were inspired by what the Glaut had done wrong and how Northerner had gone wrong.
Jenny, using the fabbery in Cohen's Shipyard, with a shipment of Tetsuo's superconductor from New Israel, scrapped her first model Blain Drive and rebuilt it from scratch. This was slid into Penny IX and another test flight was made, with Giant Fauxhares again. They showed no distress this time - and the ship exceeded c410.
Jenny Blain had faced her demons and, with help from friends, slain them. "I'm ready for another test flight," she announced to her Family. "I am highly confident of success."
Jack Epstein took his wife's hand in his. "I swore to be with you always. You're not going anywhere without me." His face showed fear, and resolve.
Sarah was trembling, but said she would go too. "When you're in there... you don't remember anything else. The bits you do see, you don't know what they mean, and some of them stick with you when you come out. But I know now, reality comes back after. I'll go again."

So the three found themselves back in the unpressurized bridge of Penny IX, watching the familiar pastels of Rachel Marsten's hyperspace streaming past, holding hands and touching shoulders as the timer counted down. The ship made its Transition to Blainspace and...
...they felt nothing.
Or near enough. Jenny reported a tingling across her whole body, like a static shock, but which passed in an instant. Jack's stomach lurched but settled immediately, like going over a bump in a road with a groundcar, despite already being in freefall. Sarah's fur raised like a cat's, and slowly smoothed down. Instruments showed minimal radiation leakage, well within safety limits - and anti-cancer nanites had been developed not long after the War, a hundred fifty Terran years ago, and improved since.
Outside, the pastels of hyperspace were subtly different, less bright, shifting more slowly than in Marstenspace. The three shipmates clasped hands and smiled at each other, while the ten-second timer counted back down. The Transition back to Marstenspace had the same effects, trivial, and the following Transition to realspace was unnoticeable. Once back in Einstein's universe they unstrapped from their seats and hugged each other through their suits.

Finally the Helium-3 plant was ready too. Alice and Testuo built the parts in Alice's planetside fabbery, then Aurora's boats came to collect them, up to Aurora, then through Marstenspace to Cohen's Shipyard, where the plant was assembled. The plant, and a new fusion torch, were fitted to Penny IX, replacing the original main deuterium system. The old hydrogen auxiliary was kept, as a necessary starter for the Helium-3 reaction. The new torch could be made to work with it as well, and the Blain Drive could function as a single-level Marsten Drive on the auxiliary's power alone.
Originally the tanker was rated for twenty-eight meters boost, but for decades had rarely exceeded ten. Jack and Jenny personally inspected every joint and weld in the spaceframe, reinforcing where necessary, and often where not. Stress and alignment sensors were placed all over the ship, programmed to shut down the torch and reactor if anything deviated more than a few percent. Her tanks were now filled with Helium-3, except for one for the hydrogen auxiliary.
Now Penny made speed runs in realspace, automated again in case of structural failure. She easily made 50 meters-per-second-squared, more than five times Terra's gravity. Then sixty, and seventy, Aurora's own record, before the frame started to bend and the sensors ordered a shutdown. Instruments showed this was less than half the new torch's capacity.
The Family gathered again, with Cohen in one of his Balloon Worlds, and with Alice and Tetsuo. It was time for Aurora's next refit.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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