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We discussed the next step for at least two more hours. At one point I reached across the table to grab a pencil and something in my side moved too much, making a popping noise. I grimaced and winced and cursed as I decided the pencil could be damned and stay right where it was.

Rebecca looked at me. "Are you all right? Maybe you ought to go home."

"Don't worry about me," I said through clenched teeth.

"I think she's right, Anson." Jim looked concerned.

"Okay, who am I to argue with the likes of you two? Let's all go home. Sleep in tomorrow and we'll get together Friday night. I'll call tomorrow and have the two of you retroactively registered in two special topics classes. We will talk Friday about our next step. How's that?"

Rebecca looked over at Jim and frowned. "Could we just wait and talk about it at the grad student cookout Saturday, instead? I already have plans."

"Oh crap! I forgot about that. Can you two come over Saturday morning and help out with that?"

"You already asked us once," Jim and Rebecca simultaneously chimed in.

"Oh yeah, I forgot." I paused. "What did you say?"

They laughed. "Your mother was right about you. You would forget your head if it wasn't attached to you."

"Yeah," I said. "So, Saturday then?"

"Suits me." Jim shrugged.

"Hey, I'm just along for the ride. Whatever you say." Rebecca smiled cute as a button. That is the only way to describe her. Not that she is a supermodel, just cute—the kind of cute that makes the human race go round.

"Great. You two go home and get some sleep."


Ring. I rolled over and looked at the phone. Ring. "The machine can get it. I ain't movin'," I said. Ring. "Hello, this is Anson. I can't come to the phone right now, but if you will leave a name a number and a message I will get back to you. Beeeep!" 

"Hello, Dr. Clemons this is Colonel Ames . . ."

You have never seen a man with busted ribs move so fast. I grabbed my side with my left hand, rolled hard to the right, sat up on the side of the bed, and grabbed the phone.

"Hello, uh, hang on a minute, let me turn this thing off." I slapped the machine hard. Composing myself, "Hello Tabitha, how are you?"

"Fine thanks."

"What can I do you for?" I said thinking I was being cool. I'm sure I wasn't and I'm sure she didn't think I was either.

"Uh, well. I wanted to talk to you about the meeting at Goddard. You left early. I hope you're okay?"

"What me, never better," I lied. Rolling over so fast really hurt.

"Well, good. I was hoping to come see you and talk for a while about what you can do with the funds we have left for your project. I'd also like to catch up on what you've been doing."

"Okay, sounds cool. When are you coming down?"

"What do you mean?"

"When will you be in Huntsville?"

"I'm sorry. I am in Huntsville. We talked about this on the plane, don't you remember?"

"Uh, no."


"How long are you here?"

"My plane leaves Tuesday next week. I have some things to do with Space Camp on Monday so I'm staying over the weekend. Could we meet sometime between now and Tuesday?"

"I'm open all day Friday."

"Are you okay?"

"I think so. Why?" She sounded confused.

"Today is Friday."

I looked at my watch. Sure enough it was Friday. I'd been asleep for nearly two days; no wonder I was so thirsty. I shook my head to clear it. "Maybe these painkillers are wearing me down."

"We could do this some other time. You can call me when you feel better."

"Hold on!" I pleaded. "Listen, do you like hamburgers and hot dogs?"

"I guess. Why?"

"Well, I'm hosting the spring semester graduate student cookout at my house Saturday evening. You're here anyway. Why don't you come over and join us? I'm sure the students would love to meet a big famous astronaut like you. We could talk then. What do you say?" It took a little more conniving and goading but I finally convinced her to come to the cookout—for the students, of course. I had a lot to do to get ready. I was now a whole day behind schedule.

First, I had to take care of Jim and Rebecca's classes. I called up Jan. She really runs the graduate school, not the dean. All he does is sign stuff when she tells him to. After a few minutes we decided that if both of them took Physics 804: Topics in General Relativity and Physics 798: Special Topics in Vacuum Energy Physics that they would be able to graduate. If they defended their dissertations on time, that is. By the way, there is no such class as Physics 804 or 798. Oops! Guess I will just have to teach it myself then and make up a curriculum for them. The Graduate Handbook allows for such things. The students then just have to write papers or take exams or something. I can do that no problem.

Jan and I also figured out all the final details for the cookout. When I told her who would be the special guest there, she said that we had better buy more hamburgers and hot dogs. I guessed that meant more beer, too!


The cookout was going quite well I thought. My "Kiss the Physicist" apron and chef's hat went over pretty well. Thanks, Mom. That reminded me. Damn! Before I let everyone dig in, I had them join us in Alan Shepard's Prayer.

"Everyone, attention please." I banged on the grill top with the spatula until it reached a resonance just flat of a B.

Nothing happened until Jan yelled, "Shut up!" Everyone shut up.

I picked up my beer and held it high.

"Everyone please face the rocket, put your right hand over your heart, and raise your beverage with your left!" You can see the big Saturn V from my backyard. Hell, in just about any backyard in Huntsville you can see the big Saturn V.

I continued, "Please join in THE prayer. Dear Lord . . ." I began. The whole crew joined in, "PLEASE DON'T LET ME SCREW UP!" Of course some of the rather less refined students and faculty didn't say "screw," if you know what I mean. The way I have heard the story neither did Shepard.

"Amen, brother!"


"Let's eat!" I yelled.

I noticed Tabitha laughed at the spectacle. She showed up about six-thirty in the evening, just as the grill was getting hot. Rebecca grabbed her and kept her away from me most of the night. She was a big hit. Tabitha didn't do too bad, either.

Jim came over to me and asked, "She's pretty cool, huh?"

"Who? Colonel Ames?" I asked. "I guess so."

Jim furrowed his brow at me.

"Not her! Oh . . ." He paused and looked back and forth between Tabitha and myself. Then did it again. "Ha! You like her!"

"Hey, shut up. How many of those have you had anyway?"

"Beers or burgers? Anson likes the astronaut!"

"Either. What, are we twelve now?"

"I know you are but what am I?" He laughed.

Then it dawned on me. "If you didn't mean Tabitha, who the heck were you talking about?"

"Never mind! And he's supposed to be the smart one," he muttered sarcastically, pointed his thumb at me, and walked away.

"Hey, you're not driving home are you?" I halfheartedly scolded to his back.

Most of the students had left by sometime around eleven, and I was beginning to feel my age and my ribs. So, I decided it would be best to sit in a lounger on the patio, watch the stars, nurse my ribs, and finish off another beer or three. Unfortunately, my bottle was getting low on beer and I was getting low on get-up-and-go. So, I sat there watching for satellites and falling stars. I laughed at the thought of that, a falling star. The cosmology of that being very silly, I corrected myself and started looking for meteors. I heard a whirring from the back part of the yard. My autodome had turned on and the telescope door began to open.

"Jim must be showing off the observatory," I said to no one in particular as I toasted the autodome with the backwash left in my bottle. It was a great night for it. Astronomy, not backwash.

Jupiter and Saturn were almost dead overhead. It was so clear. I would've sworn I could see one of Jupiter's moons with unaided eyes. I knew that wasn't what Jim would be looking for since nobody went out to aperture down the telescope. You see, Jim and I built a 3.5 meter Newtonian in a truss style Dobsonian Alt-Az mount. It is completely automated from my PC inside the house and is connected via an ultrawideband wireless local area network. The datalink is about four hundred gigabytes per second. The telescope has two optical paths. One runs to a charge coupled device (CCD) camera and the other to a microminiature spectrophotometer. I wanted one of these all my life but could never afford a glass mirror that large. When the small companies came out with composite very large optics in about '06 I knew it was time to start. The dome cost about two thousand bucks and the wireless LAN and computer system and other electronics were about that each. The primary mirror ran me back about six grand. After about four years of tinkering and adjusting and buying new gadgets one piece at a time, I had about fifteen thousand total in it. Hey, I know guys with golf clubs that cost as much. Heck, my dad has a bass boat that cost him more than twenty-five thousand bucks and it's a mid-range one! Then he built a new garage just for his boat; no telling how much that cost. But, my hobby can actually add real knowledge to mankind.

In fact, Jim and I found a planet around one of our local stellar neighbors about a year ago. We figured out a very subtle difference in the spatial coherence of the light from the star versus that of a large planet. It basically gave us a Michelson's stellar interferometer with much better resolution. There were some other tricks required, but once Jim and I calculated the right matched filter we could pull a Uranus-sized planet out of the background of its star. Provided that the planet was more than four astronomical units from its sun. So, we were lucky. Our hobby turned out to be of some importance—maybe? If we ever build a warp drive we should go where there are planets. Doesn't that make sense? At least it's fun in the meantime.

Anyway, I could tell that Jim was driving; the telescope went from one Messier object to another. Jim was putting on a grand tour for someone. He usually does that to show off even though the computer really does it. All a human has to do is hit the On button and run the Messier program.

I watched the sky and listened to the crickets and the whirring motors of the observatory. The three red flashing lights on the Saturn V rocket caught my eye off to the southeast. Come May the trees would fill out and the rocket would be obstructed from view.

I was in a peaceful mood—not really contemplative just peaceful. The vision of the whiteboard with the warp equations came to mind.

Somehow, I thought. We could build the power supply now, even if it does have to be a cube half the size of Alabama. Images of the Borg cubes from Star Trek: The Next Generation came to mind. I found that humorous for some reason. Then a very bright object popped into view traveling from the south to the northwest. I watched for a second or so making up my mind what it was. Just as I was about to decide I was interrupted.

"There is ISS right on time." Tabitha stretched her neck left then right, and sat down in the lounger beside me. "Here, I thought you might need this." She handed me a fresh beer.

What a woman! I hope I didn't say that out loud. Instead I hope what I said is, "You scared the living shit out of me!"

"Sorry. You're missing quite a show in there." She pointed in to the den.

"Yeah. Well, they are missing the real show out here. Besides, been there . . ."

"You have a cool place here, Anson." She took a draw from her own bottle. Not sure what it was. Some kind of lemonade thing, I think.

"Thanks, ma'am! We aim to please. You aim too, please!"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Sorry. Just a little men's room humor. Don't rightly know where I picked that up, but I've been saying that since I was twelve."

She smiled, "Oh, I get it. Men!" It was too dark to see it, but I know she shook her head and made that face all women make when discussing men.

"I can't believe you've actually been there." I half-heartedly pointed at the now fading International Space Station. "Hey, did you guys ever really call it Alpha?"

"I think the first Russians did," she explained. "But it just wouldn't stick. Not sure if it was political or just not as catchy as 'ISS.'" She laughed. Then with a slightly more commanding tone she began, "You know I never got to talk to you since Goddard."

"How about that," I said. "You cut the legs out from under a lot of people there. When BPP started, it was seriously peanuts—not even a million bucks a year. Not really even worth the effort, but this is going to set the human race back to stone tools." I like being dramatic. If I thought it would've helped, I would've pissed on a spark plug.

"Anson, I said it then and I'm saying it now. And I won't say it again! This decision came from far above me. The White House I think. I've actually been trying to determine where the directives came from and have gotten nowhere."

"Sounds like a conspiracy to me. Elvis and JFK probably did it from Roswell or the Bermuda Triangle!" I said sarcastically and then proudly tugged on my bottle.

"Look I'm bearing an olive branch here. If you are going to be a smartass, just forget it." I think she was genuinely hurt, or at least pissed.

"Okay. Sorry. I believe you. So what did you want to tell me?" I tried to smooth it out but I was firing a little early on cylinder number two and cylinder seven was about to seize up. I'm not sure I even had spark plugs in the rest of them. Maybe somebody'd pissed on them.

"That's just it. There really is nothing I can do other than apologize. Maybe if you had some real results we could go to the Space Science Subcommittee—"

"But we do have results! Didn't Rebecca tell you!"

"Tell me what?" She looked over at me just as the patio torch behind her ran out of oil and sputtered out.

I was distracted for about four seconds by the spectacular colors the thing produced in its dying upheaval. "We finally have developed a Casimir power source! It would have to be many . . . uh, many, tens of meters on a side, but it would produce a Global Annual Energy Expenditure per second—constantly!" She dropped her bottle.

"She said nothing about it."

"That's typical of those two. Hell, Jim and 'Becca did most of the work. You have to come see it! An absolute marvel! Oh yeah, I guess you have seen a few of those haven't you?" It's real easy to forget that you're talking to an astronaut, since they seem just like normal people when you meet them outside their day jobs.

We talked about the future of my research and how we might continue to finagle funding here and there. Neither of us had any bright ideas. I realized she really did believe in the BPP research and she had nothing to do with budget cuts. The last thing I remember talking about is my crazy lucid dreams and how I knew that we were close to something. I could taste it, I told her. I think she thought I was a little nuts.

The next thing I knew I was waking up with the sun in my face and Friday licking my left middle finger. Somehow, I had been covered with an afghan from the screened porch sofa.

I passed out on her again! Damn it. I got up and crawled to the bed and passed out again.

Later in the day I finally got up and stirred around the house. I managed to wake Jim up as I shut the microwave for about the third time. Leftover cheeseburgers are great hangover medicine once heated up in the microwave. I looked around and noticed that someone had sort of cleaned up. My money was on 'Becca.

"Lazarus has arisen!" I said as Jim came through the breakfast nook.

"Arisen, hell!" He wasn't firing on all cylinders yet either or he would've had a snappier come back—he's usually pretty witty. "What time is it?" he asked.

"Not sure, uh, about twelve-thirty," I replied.

"We've gotta be at the studio at one!"

"Dang! I've been forgetting a lot of stuff lately. I think these painkillers are bad on my short-term memory. I'm gonna quit taking them, if I can stand it. We better get our stuff and go."

We had upper belt tests today at the karate studio. Jim and I, as black belts, had volunteered to help with the testing. The thing I regretted was that I wouldn't get to fight because of my ribs. I had entertained the idea of wearing the rib protector and fighting, but I just hadn't healed enough yet. Besides, it'd only been one week. The doctor said six, but what does that quack know?

We got there and bowed in just in time. Our school is one of the more fighting oriented and not very traditional. Oh sure, we do the traditional stuff like katas, traditional stances, and an occasional bow, but we don't do all of the "Yes Sensei, No Sensei" junk you see in the movies. In fact, the head instructor Bob is actually a year younger than me and much less disciplined (if that is possible). Bob cuts up worse than most of his students. His wife Alisa keeps him in check, sometimes. But, I have never seen anybody do pushups because they neglected to say, "yes sir" or "no sir" or because they forgot to bow.

I got my score sheet and began watching and scoring the students. Alisa came over to me.

"How are you? The ribs?" she whispered and pointed at my side.

"I'm okay; there's still a lot of pain, but nothing serious. I'll be out for a couple more weeks. I'm gonna try to do pushups by the end of the week. I figure it'll be another couple of weeks before I can do crunches. Might be able to do some katas next week." I was probably lying about any or all of that.

"I'm sorry." She smiled and went about her business.

Rebecca finally made it. She bowed and frantically tied her belt. "Why didn't she just stay and come in with us?" I nudged Jim.

"She didn't have her gi or her pads with her," he replied.

"'Becca you are late! Stretch real quick and get in line!"

Bob seemed a little perturbed. I'm surprised she didn't have to do pushups, but test days are a little rushed and frantic. Bob is really just an old softy.

Finally, after about three physically grueling hours they got to fight. The main goal of our tests is to get you to a point where you feel there's nothing left to do but give up. Then we ask even more of you. This would be the case if someone or some group of people were mugging, raping, or trying to kill you. You never quit. Never!

Each student had burned at least eleven hundred calories. That is how grueling the test is. Now we were asking them to fight ninety-second rounds. One one-on-one round for each belt earned every three months (up to brown, that's five rounds, then) and one two-on-one fight for each brown belt stripe (three stripes required for a black belt with a test each six months). To test for a black belt there is a three-on-one also. But this was brown belt tests; black belts test separately.

Now you might think that ninety-second rounds aren't that long. Try running twenty-meter sprints while forgetting to breathe and while people are hitting and kicking the living hell out of you for a minute and a half and then talk to me about it. No, wait a second. First do one hour of aerobics, thirty minutes or so of isometric-type exercises, then do another hour and half of aerobics. Then do six or seven minute and a half rounds as I just described with just one minute in between each. Then we will talk about it! Why do it you ask? Simple, it is fun as the dickens! (Not sure I know what "the dickens" are but to hear my grandma tell it they must have been real fun.)

Jim geared up and got in the mix. I wanted to get in and play so bad it hurt. But had I gotten in the mix, I'm sure it would have hurt. It was like when you were a kid and your mom wouldn't let you go in swimming for thirty minutes after you ate lunch. All the other kids were out there having a ball and you had to set there twiddling your thumbs. That is how it felt. So, I ref'ed and ran the clock. Bob wanted to fight, too.

"Bow to your partners, touch gloves, fight." This wasn't the sport karate point stuff. This was a continuous fight for ninety seconds. The only rules are no hitting below the belt and no grabbing. If somebody grabs you, you can throw them. While you are on the ground you are liable to be kicked in the head and if you don't get up you fail the test and have to wait six more months to be promoted to a higher belt.

Rebecca got set up against Jim and Alisa for her first one. She did pretty good. At one point she did a spinning backfist that caught Jim on side of the head. His mouthpiece flew halfway across the ring. We all laughed appropriately. Alisa didn't let her get away with it though. Although it looks good in the movies, spinning isn't really a good idea when you are fighting two people. It gave Alisa time to slip to her back side and bully up on her.

Rebecca finally "turtled up" and covered very well and let them hit her for a second or two. Once she got her breath she shoved, kicked, and punched Alisa into Jim, who was punching her in the headgear from behind and around Alisa with big slow looping hook punches. She ran to the other side of the room being chased and punched the whole way. This time she didn't stop running. She turned a long arc and threw a few kicks and punches and ran back the way she had come, fitness really becoming a factor now. The timer beeped.

"Stop!" I yelled.

She collapsed on the floor gasping for air.

Bob smiled as he looked around the room, "'Becca, die over there so we can start the next fight."

She crawled to the side of the colored-tape marked rings and sat with her back to the wall, gasping for air and sweating profusely.

"Don't sit still 'Becca! Keep breathing and keep moving. Get you a quick drink of water while you are at it," I told her.

Jim said something to her inaudible to me. She responded by kicking at his shin. Jim did a quick hopping two-step and decided he had better go get a drink of water and leave well enough alone.

A minute or so later it was Rebecca's time again. This time Bob and Keri (a one stripe brown belt that just wanted to fight another round) fought her. It looked pretty much the same except, Bob is much taller and can hold his ax kick up over his head and drop it at the most inopportune times. 'Becca found this out, the hard way. Defending Keri's attack of multiple kicks, she's kind of limber, 'Becca dropped her guard a little too much for Bob. He drove her to her knees with an ax kick on top of her head. Everyone gasped and paused for a split second to see if Rebecca was okay. She responded from her knees by reverse punching Bob just above the belt as hard as she could.

I think she was a bit mad. As she scrambled to her feet, Keri decided to give it to her with both barrels. Roundhouse kick to the midsection, hookkick to the head, another roundhouse to the head, she did all this balancing on her right leg and never sat her left foot down. Keri then followed up with a jab, cross, and a ridgehand. 'Becca took all this in stride and never stopped moving. With an amazing display of balance she bobbed and weaved into a spinning side kick and followed with an outer block to stop the ridgehand. By this time Bob had given her enough of a break and poured it on even harder. He raised his ax kick again. This time 'Becca was having none of it.

She ducked under his leg to avoid the kick and slipped to his back side and reverse punched Bob in the ribs following it with a left hook to the solar plexus and one to the side of the headgear. Of course, Bob wasn't there for the second punch and Keri had slipped to the side of Rebecca. Rebecca must have realized this and threw a real ugly half side kick half front kick. At the same time Bob was throwing a backfist to her headgear, Keri caught Rebecca's foot and pushed her backwards (our rules are that you are allowed to grab on blocks for one second or so). Rebecca was now falling backward with a backfist moving toward her head. Using the momentum of her fall she did a backwards handspring as Bob's backfist passed right through the air where her head had been a fraction of a second before. I'm sure she could see his fist go by her face. 'Becca rolled through the handspring and onto her feet into a traditional back stance with a knife hand outer block (I think by accident, but it looked amazingly cool). She side kicked Bob to hold him off as the timer beeped.

"Stop!" I yelled.

Every person present looked on in awe. I said, "Hell yes! That was awesome." Jim applauded and whistled. Rebecca fell to the floor gasping for air, her mouthpiece falling to the floor as she threw her headgear off.

"That was impressive! You rock!" Alisa cheered and clapped.

I had never seen anything like that outside of a movie. I seriously doubted that I ever would again. I guess that I should mention that Rebecca did her undergraduate schooling on a cheerleading and gymnastics scholarship at Auburn University. She still tumbles every now and then at the karate studio, just to show off I think. Keri helped drag a gasping 'Becca to the side of the rings and Bob organized another fight. After about three more rounds it was all over. Everyone had passed.

An hour later we were sitting around a table at one of our favorite sports bars just off of University Drive. We were on our second pitcher of beer, waiting for our food. Bob and I talked about when I would be back in class and if I thought I could compete next month. I wasn't quite sure about either, so I lied about both. Eventually the conversation turned to the various topics that are covered after three pitchers of beer.

"Who sang that song?"

"Just how tall is the Empire State Building and what would happen if you dropped a penny off of it?" I actually make my freshman physics students work that one out every semester.

"Don't be silly," I say to them. "A raindrop weighs about the same as a penny and they fall from as much as forty thousand feet high during thunderstorms. You ever see a raindrop crack the sidewalk?" Terminal velocity is tough for some people to grasp.

And so the conversations continued. "If you were driving along at the speed of light and you turned your headlights on, what would you see?"

"Could Jackie Chan whup Bruce Lee?"

"Which Heinlein book was the best?"

"Was Kirk, Picard, Sisco, Janeway, or Archer the coolest captain?" I always voted for "Q" myself, but didn't he always make himself an admiral?

"Who was the best guitarist of all times?" No contest there. Hendrix, period, exclamation point.

"Second best?" Stevie Ray Vaughn. Of course you can't discount Robert Johnson, George Thorogood, Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, Slash, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Ron Wood, Kirk Hammett, and that new kid, what's his name, and of course our local great, Microwave Dave. But there is an order of magnitude problem between second and third best that I'm sure the other guitarists would point out.

A pitcher later and Tabitha came through the door. Rebecca waved at her and she joined us.

"Did you call her or something?" I asked.

"None of your business," she replied.

'Becca introduced her while I tried to figure out just how I was supposed to react. The group accepted her willingly and didn't quiz her too hard about being an astronaut. Alisa asked her a question that I never really thought about.

"Did you have to take some sort of self-defense stuff in the Air Force?"

"We had some training, yes. I'm sure it wasn't as involved as what I hear all of you do."

I responded to that, "Well, none of us have ever flown a Space Shuttle, either." She seemed to like that remark. I seemed to recall having used it the first time I met her. Maybe I just thought I did. That day is still pretty fuzzy.

Our food finally got to the table. Well, mine almost did. Some crazy drunk guy in the middle of a story made a big hand gesture and knocked my plate right out of our waitress's hand. I laughed at first, until I realized it was my food. It all went downhill from there.


I slept in a little Monday morning and got to the lab about eleven. Tabitha was coming by after her Space Camp thing later that evening to see our experiments. I spent some time explaining it to her, but without seeing it, it's hard to explain. Rebecca and Jim were already in the warp bubble experiment lab setting it up. We had never figured out why the electrons had completely disappeared on us, although, the experiment is actually kind of simple. There's a one-and-a-half-meter-long glass tube with an electron gun attached at one end. The tube has huge electromagnets situated along it to steer, accelerate, and focus the electrons. The other end of the tube is a larger vacuum chamber in the shape of a cube about a half meter on a side. In the middle of the chamber is a misshapen toroidial superconductor with coils around the upper and lower half—the device looked kind of like a squished and twisted donut with thousands of wires wrapped around it in random looking fashion. A few centimeters away is a second misshapen toroidial superconductor with similar coils around it. A high current is set up moving counterclockwise in the first toroid and clockwise in the other and a rather complex alternating current function is set up in the coils. It's in the region between the two toroids that the spacetime metric should change to allow for the warp bubble—if the field strength is large enough, and if the theory is correct, that is. We based the field shapes on approximations to the Einstein equations and numerical solutions, but there still hasn't been any real closed solution discovered. If I could only have that dream again, maybe I'd figure it out.

All the apparatus is inside a clear plastic sphere that has electron detectors deposited on the inner surface of the sphere. This way electrons scattered at any angle could be detected. The problem is that you can't see the experiment because of the detectors—there are so many of them and they're all in the way from an outside viewer's standpoint. So, we modified the sphere by drilling a few holes here and there between the electron detectors and placed tiny CCD cameras in them. We sealed the holes around the camera connections with epoxy and vacuum sealant—that was an ordeal within itself. Now we could rerun the experiment and actually see what was happening inside the sphere. Some of the cameras are for ultraviolet, some for infrared, and some for visible wavelengths. We hoped that would shed some, ahem, light on the problem.

Jim and 'Becca had completed the modifications early and now had the chamber pulling down to a vacuum. That would take several hours. In the meantime we decided to have a bull session about the next step for the energy collectors.

"There has to be a way to make them more efficient or smaller."

"Well, smaller is really out, Anson. We're at state-of-the-art and then some right now!" Rebecca said.

"Maybe there's a way to increase the surface area of the Casimir effect regions," was Jim's input.

"That would increase the efficiency all right. Any ideas, 'Becca?" I asked.

"I dunno?" She shrugged. "The most efficient use of surface area is a sphere, but how the heck can we use that?"

"That's it! Why didn't I think of that?" I went to the whiteboard and started drawing.

"What's it?" Jim asked.

"Well, instead of plates for pistons we use hollow spheres. One inside the other. Like this." I drew a large circle, which is a two-dimensional sphere, then a smaller circle inside it. Then I erased a portion of the larger circle and drew a rod from the smaller circle through the hole in the larger one and extended the rod a little. I drew the same thing on the other end of the rod.

"The question is, how do we support the rod and keep the inner spheres from touching the outer ones." I tugged at my lip for a second and realized that I was chewing on the end of the marker cap.

"Maybe we can do it this way." Rebecca took another marker and drew squiggly lines to represent springs from the rod. She drew two springs on top and two on bottom of the rod at equal distances from its center.

"But what about collecting the energy. How do we do that?" I asked.

This time Jim figured it out. "Easy. Just make the rod a magnet and we put a coil around the rod. Voila, we have a generator!"

"Could this work?" I thought aloud. I did some quick math on the board and showed that the surface area was an order of magnitude greater, hence making the energy collection that much greater. "The efficiency of this coil idea might even be better than the plates configuration. This might be win-win. Can you guys make it?" I looked at them hopefully.

"We'll figure it out! I don't think it's more complicated than that guitar we made you for Christmas," Rebecca said with excitement and confidence in her voice.

They had made me a guitar that was about one micron long for Christmas the previous year. The darn thing actually played, but you had to have a microwave receiver to "hear" it. Of course, we could never figure out how to chord the thing. It was one of the neatest Christmas presents I had gotten since Sadie Jo Livingston kissed me at the fifth grade Christmas party at Priceville Elementary.

Jim and 'Becca went off to the nanotech lab to work on the energy collector. I went to my office to catch up on some emails. My colleague Matt had sent me a note wanting to know why I hadn't called him since Goddard. I wrote a quick response back telling him that I was overwhelmed with work and that I would get with him in a week or so. After finishing up about a million emails, I decide to catch up with Mom. After all, I owed her a call or two.

Nothing new had happened. Dad had caught a nine-pound bass down by "the pump house" and my twelve-year-old nephew who was with him netted the thing. It was the highlight of their summer. They put up a picture at the local country store of my nephew holding the fish. Grandma was still claiming to be deathly ill. Oh and by the way her eighty-second birthday was coming up. My brother was probably going to be reactivated and sent back to the Middle East. He was in the Air Force Reserve. My first cousin's twin girls turn five next week. Don't forget to call them. And when am I going to come visit them again?

Anybody who has parents has had that conversation, as Carl Sagan might have said, "billions upon billions" of times. I guess I had rather have the conversations than not have the parents. Small price to pay, don't you think?

I hung the phone up finally after, "Yeah, uh huh, no I have to get back. No. Yep, uh, I don't know. Okay then, I will see you soon. Yeah. No. Maybe, soon. All right. We will see y'all later. Naw. I don't know. Yes. Okay then. All right then. Nope. Okay I gotta go. Yep. Uh, maybe. Uh huh. All right, we'll talk to you later. Okay I gotta go. Bye. Unh huh, love y'all too. Okay bye now."

"Now back to work," I muttered to myself. I got my notes out and started looking over the tensors for the metric we were using in the current configuration. There are just too many equations so I ran the tensor math package on my computer. There were nearly too many for that thing, even at six hundred gigahertz. I tweaked a few equations here and there and set the calculations in motion. It would be an hour or so before they were through, so I decided to see how the kids were doing.

I put my paper tux on and headed for the airlock. Jim was running some mechanical arms from the computer and 'Becca was looking through the eyepiece of a microscope giving Jim orders. This was funny because Jim could see everything she could from the computer monitor.

"Damnit!" he said. "Do you want to drive?"

"If you can't drive any better, I might need to."

"Children, children, please be calm." I said. "Don't make me separate you two."

"Boss," Rebecca began, "do you remember that thing you told me about too many chefs making the soup taste like crap?"

"Point taken, 'Becca. I will just set over here and watch like a good televangelist." I sat down next to Jim and kept my mouth shut. Well, except when I was sniggering my ass off at the show.

"Okay, 'Becca say when." What they were doing was loading various materials that would be vaporized and then deposited on a dielectric substrate. Jim could indeed see the objects as the materials began to deposit and adhere to the substrate but the contrast wasn't as good as through the phase contrast microscope 'Becca was using. He was waiting for her to tell him when the center portion of the wafer they were looking at had enough silicon—or germanium or gold or whatever they were depositing at the time—on it. Of course, 'Becca could probably eyeball it and get it right since she had done this so many times. But she also had a nanogram balance readout right in front of her to tell her when. The computer would do most of the etching and depositing once the design was drawn in the special CAD system they were using.

"That's good Jim. When already!" She raised her voice to make the point.

I sniggered again. Realizing the sensitive part was over; I figured that I could speak now.

"Have you guys already drawn up the blueprints?"

"Nah, we just thought we would load up the machine and get that out of the way. Here is what we have so far." Jim punched a few keys and a drawing not unlike the one on the whiteboard in the conference room popped up.

Rebecca finished for him, "We still have to put in all the materials, thicknesses, and so forth, and so on, and so on."

"And scooby dooby dooby," I sang. They just looked at me funny. I'm getting old. But I am still everyday people, by God!

"Anybody ever told you just how weird you really are, Doc?" Rebecca asked.

"My mom told me about thirty minutes ago." Of course I was lying. Mom may think it but she would never say it.

"We're going to have to start having some sort of comic relief around here. Maybe like 'Punday' in those Spider Robinson stories. You guys are getting a little stiff," I said.

"Stiff as that little super tool gadget," 'Becca said as she picked up a spider wrench sitting on the table. It was a cross-shaped tool like a miniature tire tool with a different size socket on each end of the cross. I'm sure she asked for it on purpose. She wielded it like a real cross. "Be gone, evil demon!" she said to me.

Jim followed suit by singing just in time, "Here's to you, Mr. Robinson Anson thinks he's cool but he don't know. Woah, woah, woah."

"Huh," I grunted.

We were quiet for a few minutes as Jim spun up the centrifuge for a test. Then 'Becca asked, "Hey did you guys see the news last night? There was the strangest thing on about this murder."

"No. I missed it. What about it," I asked.

"Well, apparently some local materials engineer guy was working on this new fiberglasslike alloy that would be used for aircraft and spacecraft. He was working on it in his basement lab. The material was supposed to be like Kevlar but more modern, stronger and lighter. So anyway, this guy was mixing some of this stuff up in a big tub in his basement when he was attacked. There must have been a scuffle and the police said that at one point it looked like the engineer pushed his attacker's head into the tub of the not-yet-dry resin and fiber material. Unfortunately for the engineer, the attacker did get free of his hold and shot him. His wife came home from work and found him dead in the basement floor." She paused for a breath.

Jim chimed in on cue, "Did they have any leads?"

'Becca continued, "Well, the sketch artist and the forensic specialists examined the material in the tub once it hardened."

"Hey, that is pretty cool and lucky." I was awed by our local police.

"Yeah." 'Becca laughed. "They were able to make a really good composite drawing!"

Jim added, "Yeah, he had made quite an impression!" She and Jim guffawed.

"Okay, okay." I shook my head. "You got me. And I'm sure they will find out that the attacker was an out-of-work impressionist, and that forensics got all the evidence they needed from fibers found at the crime scene. And the analysis from the material stuck to the dead guy's hands led the coroner to believe that he had 'resin' from the dead." They simultaneously rolled their eyes and groaned in pain.

"I'll let you guys get back to work." I laughed smugly. I left before they could top me. As I closed the airlock I thought about how proud I was for finding those two.


My computer had finished its calculation by the time I had gotten back to my office. Three of the equations in the stress-energy tensor didn't converge to a solution.

"Dangnabit! @$$%%&?!" Oh, well. I changed a few other things here and there and started it up again. It was about four-thirty in the afternoon—Tabitha would be here soon. I checked on the vacuum chamber and it was ready to go. I brought the warp experiment online and so I was ready whenever she was.

She arrived at the lab about an hour later. By that time Jim and 'Becca were about finished with the new energy collector. They left the computer running the manufacture of the prototype and joined us in the warp experiment lab.

"Nice of you two to join us. How is the collector coming?" I asked.

"It should be done in an hour or so," Rebecca guessed.

"Good. Let's get to work here shall we? I already brought the system up. The electron gun is ready to go. All of the detectors are ready and the cameras are online," I assured everyone.

Jim sat down at a computer and started firing up the warp field generators. In other words, he started increasing the current in the toroids and he turned the function generators on that are connected to the field coils.

"Everything is ready. The fields are on," he said.

"Rebecca, fire the electron beam."

We all watched the detector monitors and the camera monitors with anticipation. A very bright blue light flashed on all of the camera monitors and nothing happened on the electron detectors.

"What the heck was that?" Jim exclaimed.

"Blue photons," 'Becca said smartly.

"Why were there blue photons?" I rubbed my chin and thought out loud. "There's nothing in there for the electrons to react with. If they ablated some of the toroids away, the particle detectors would've measured that. What the heck is going on?" I scratched my head.

Tabitha looked concerned.

"It couldn't be Cerenkov radiation could it?" she asked.

My brain did a double backflip. Of course! Cerenkov radiation!

"'Becca hit the e-beam again!" I almost shouted. She flipped a couple of interlock switches and pressed the fire button. Again the blue flash! "Oh my God!" I grabbed Tabitha and kissed her right on the mouth. I turned and ran to the whiteboard and never looked back.

It was so obvious! How could I not have thought of it before? Jim, Rebecca, and a slightly red astronaut filtered into the room. I hoped she was just blushing and not mad.

"What gives, Anson?" Rebecca asked.

Jim followed with, "You gonna let us in on the secret?"

"Shhh! Give me a second—us old people think slower than you youngsters," I scolded. They sat patiently while I worked out tensors in my head, on the board, on pieces of notes on the table, and back on the board. It was like an avalanche. It took one tiny snowflake to trigger a flow of ideas that were so powerful I couldn't control the rate they came or where they were going. I just had to follow along for the ride. When the smoke and dust settled I had a group of equations on the board circled and a diagram drawn.

"Jim, get the digital camera and record this now!" I looked over and noticed that he had already been doing so. Good kid.

"So, what gives?" Rebecca posed with her hands on her hips.

"Okay, here it is. We just broke the speed of light barrier in a vacuum!" I let that sink in for a second. "Tabitha was absolutely right. The blue light was Cerenkov radiation." I paused and turned to Rebecca, "Let's hear it, Rebecca." She frowned at me and flipped her laptop open. After typing in a few things a website came up. She began to read.

"Cerenkov radiation was discovered in 1926 by Mallet. Mallet observed that the light had a continuous spectrum instead of having 'dark lines' which are characteristic of emission spectrum. The unusual electromagnetic phenomenon was extensively studied between the years of 1934Ð1938 by Pavel Cerenkov (1904Ð1990). Cerenkov discovered fluorescence wasn't the cause of this effect and he measured speeds of particles over 230,000,000 meters per second. In other words, the particles traveled faster than light in that medium. However, Cerenkov never demonstrated faster than light motion with any particle in the vacuum." She looked around the room, "So what are you saying Doc?"

"First, you should have known that without having to look it up. Get the math down on that before your defense," I scolded her a little. "I know you'll remember it now. Just in case . . ." I winked at her to ease the tension so as not to embarrass her too much in front of company and to let her know that it damn well would be a question on her oral defense.

I turned back to the board. "Here's what happened," I started. "The electron beam hits the outer edge of the Alcubierre warped spacetime here where space is expanded and so the speed of light in this region is maybe thirty times ten to the eight meters per second—ten times the vacuum speed of light. We don't know how to measure that accurately yet. Then it passes through a region just beyond the expanded spacetime to the center between the two toroids. Here spacetime should be flat, so the speed of light is smaller, roughly three times ten to the eight meters per second—or normal vacuum speed. But the electrons didn't slow down and they are now traveling faster than light speed in normal flat space. Boom! Cerenkov radiation and they decelerate. Then they pass through the bubble edge near the second torus and were decelerated again because space is contracted in there and the speed of light is less than in flat space. Maybe three times ten to the seven meters per second. Boom, more Cerenkov radiation as they decelerated." I paused for air. "If we had fast photo-detectors instead of cameras, I'll bet you we would see two quick flashes overlapping each other. I'm guessing about one to ten nanoseconds pulsewidth each. Oh, one more thing, the Cerenkov radiation had to occur at the edge of each spacetime region in order to prevent any violations of causality. In other words, the electrons were never traveling faster-than-light for that region for more than the smallest possible time increment as they passed from one region to the next. Otherwise, there would have been time travel things goin' on and Gawd I'm glad that didn't happen."

"That doesn't explain why we couldn't detect the electrons though," Jim pointed out.

"That's right," Tabitha added, no longer blushing.

"Give me a second and I'll get there. Sheesh!" I overdramatized and kept talking.

"Remember that in order to keep the Alcubierre type field stable we had to use the Van Den Broeck idea of placing a second bubble around the main Alcubierre bubble once we got the matter inside. Ha!" I laughed at the pun. Nobody else got it. So, I continued to press onward, "And in order for us to control that bubble it is electrically charged on the outside. I went back through my notes here on the table. Once decelerated the electrons aren't fast enough to penetrate the negative charge on the outside of the Van Den Broeck bubble. So, they just get bounced around inside until they decelerate to a point where they aren't energetic enough to trigger the detectors once we turn off the field. They just scatter off at low energies. Remember the Alcubierre field only lasts like a nanosecond so the electrons don't get re-accelerated." I looked around the room. My heart was pounding a million beats per second.

"Do you realize what this means, Anson?" Tabitha asked.

"You're damn right I do. We just built the first warp drive and accelerated the first matter to warp speed! YES! And the crowd goes wild." I shouted. "Goal!"

I ran to my office with both arms still in the air and shouting, "Goal!" I stopped the calculation, and reentered the new data. We might have been warping for weeks and didn't know it! Kind of like Yeager and the sound barrier—he said in his book that he believes they broke the sound barrier a few days earlier than they realized. History repeats itself I guess.


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