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Looking back on the experiment, I realize that we were lucky the motive force caused by the warp bubble wasn't stronger than the Coulomb forces which we used to hold the bubble in place between the toroids. Also, if the warp field forces had been strong enough to overcome the mechanical strength of the mounts holding the toroids in place . . . whew-wee that could have been messy!"

I explained to Jim and 'Becca how we might have punched a hole through the lab wall and most of the buildings in its path half way across the state. Hopefully, hypersonic pressures would've disintegrated the thing before it went too far. But, who knows how strong a Van Den Broeck warp bubble is?

"Messy to say the least. Why didn't we think of that before?" Rebecca scolded me. I smiled at her charisma.

"I don't know. Hey give me a break will you. We just invented the warp drive!" I said.

"Yeah, yeah. That was thirty minutes ago. What have you done for me lately?" Tabitha said, laughing.

"There are some possible military applications here." I rubbed my head in contemplation. "Maybe we can squeeze some cash out of DARPA. What do you think Tabitha?" I asked.

"I'll ask," she said.

Jim looked around the room. "Nobody move. I'll be right back!" He was gone for about seven minutes. We had just about given up on him when he finally came back in with a bottle of cheap champagne and some plastic cups.

"This is all they had across the street at the gas station but it'll have to do." He began pouring and distributing. "I don't know about you guys," he began, "but this deserves a drink!"

'Becca flipped through her notebook and found a passage. She held up her glass and said, "I found this in your library a few months back and I thought it would be cool for this occasion. It comes from your Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual in the section on Warp Field Theory and Application." She started reading from her notes about how the fictional Zephram Cochrane had gone through this crusade of developing new complex math and procedures required to invent the warp drive. It was interesting how the writers of that book closely paralleled the work that we'd done in Breakthrough Physics.

"Cheers!" she exclaimed as she finished reading the passage.

Like I said, I'm proud of myself for finding these two. "Cheers," I said as I raised my cup. I had to cover the tears of joy so the others didn't see them.

"Cheers!" cried Tabitha.

"I know we have to verify all of this better and do some optimization. But, seriously, what next?" Jim shrugged his shoulders.

I started to respond. To my surprise, Tabitha jumped in before I could get the first word out.

"First thing we have to do is get you guys more funds! And I'm going to see about getting moved down here, if that's okay. You'll need some help if we're gonna do a flight experiment."

"Whoa there, Tex!" I interrupted her. "First things first. The chocolate starfish is my man Fred Durst!"

"Limp Bizkit?" Tabitha asked.

"Yeah, good." I nodded at her approvingly. Then I realized how old I was. Who would've ever thought I would be listening to Limp Bizkit on classic rock radio?

"Anyway," I got back to my original thought, "we go about our job and you go about yours. We would love to have you here, of course. But before you do that, somebody is going to do some lobbying and maybe even make a visit to the White House. However, let's keep this completely under wraps until we're damned sure we got it right. Okay?" If my calculations turned out to be wrong and we didn't warp space, this could be a much bigger fiasco than cold fusion ever was.


We had gone through several months of rigorous experimentation and simulation. Everything turned out to be repeatable. We even found a way to quantify the strength, stresses, and projected speed of the warp bubble, provided we turned off the electric field holding it in place and let go of it. Jim and Rebecca finished the design on the Casimir type energy collection system and they were in the process of building a tenth scale of that required to power a manned-size, warp-capable spacecraft. The largest problem proved to be funding.

On top of all that, Jim was able to complete his dissertation and graduated. I guess that is Dr. Jim Daniels now. I think I'll still call him Jim. 'Becca wasn't quite so lucky. She had trouble getting her dissertation finished before the deadline and although she finished, it wasn't in time to walk in this year's ceremony. She is supposed to pick up her diploma sometime in August at the records office. She can walk next year if she wants, but by then the new will be worn off of her diploma—it just won't be the same. What if she took a job out of town? Would it be worth it to fly back in town just for the ceremony? Graduation ought to be every semester even if there are only two students walking. I've complained about this problem at the local university for more than a decade. It always falls on deaf ears. Bureaucrats never understand human needs. I started introducing her to people as Dr. Rebecca Jean Townes.

Tabitha finally came through for us in early June. She found about a million dollars in DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) money, a few hundred thousand from DOE (Department of Energy), and we squeezed NASA BPP for the following half-funded year now. NASA In Space Transportation Program threw in about a million and a half and NASA Office of Space Science claimed if we could prove the energy collection system they'd throw in ten million dollars for a prototype. I found a few private investors locally and it looked like we had just enough to put together a warp drive flight demonstrator experiment. Provided that the Casimir energy collector scaled prototype worked, we would then be in the business of building a faster-than-light spacecraft.

We hired two cooperative education students, one graduate and one undergraduate. The plan was that the two students would work full-time one semester while attending classes part-time and vice versa the next semester. They were set up on opposite semesters so one of them would always be there full time. Al Rayburn was working on a Ph.D. in Aerospace engineering and was on part-time for the summer. Sara Tibbs was an undergraduate in physics with hopes of continuing on to a Ph.D. in cosmology or astrophysics.

As you can tell, the activity around the lab really picked up. I was e-signing time cards now for the pay period including July the fourth. We needed to have the scaled prototype done by mid July to meet schedules we sold to our benefactors and we hadn't even successfully tested the new design yet.

We also hired a clerical slash secretary slash everything else person. Johnny Cache (I'm serious—that's his name) came in and offered to do some maintenance on the front door after a thunderstorm blew a tree limb through it. The weird part is that there aren't any trees around the lab. Thunderstorms in the southeast are screwy that way.

Johnny never left—and he has proven to be priceless. Apparently he worked as a general contractor for the last eight or nine years and was laid off a few months ago. He went around the area doing odd jobs to pay the bills while he was looking for something more permanent. Once I found out that he was fluent in Spanish, Linux, HTML II, C+++, could type about eighty words a minute, and was a licensed subcontractor and a travel agent I grabbed him up.

It is hard to find a resume like that. He explained it easily though. His mom was first generation American. His grandmother brought her here from Mexico. I didn't ask if she was legal or not. Johnny said that he grew up on the Internet and computers were a hobby. His dad was a carpenter until he retired. Johnny learned the contractor profession from him. He and his wife became travel agents to earn extra money on the side. It all sounded logical enough to me.

Johnny was putting the finishing touches on the drywall of two new office areas that was previously useless storage space when Tabitha finally joined us. One of these offices was to be hers. She had convinced NASA that she needed to be here until it was time for mission training. We weren't quite sure anyway how we were going to get the spacecraft to orbit. Cart before the horse.

"Colonel, give me one more day and I'll be through painting your office," he assured Tabitha. It turns out that Johnny also spent four years in the Air Force. From the time they met Tabitha was never able to break him from using her rank.

"That'll be fine." She didn't have a lot of stuff to unpack anyway. Most of her things were still in boxes in her apartment living room floor.

Tabitha stuck her head in my office. "How are you?"

"Hey, when did you get here?" I was pleasantly surprised.

"I just got in. The new guy, Johnny? He said that my office won't be ready until tomorrow." She smiled and sat down on my couch. Offices really need a couch. I've spent many all-nighters working and catching catnaps every now and then on it. I've caught Jim and 'Becca on it a time or two also. Uh, I mean I caught them one at a time—not together—although I have recently noticed some chemistry going on there.

"How did it go in D.C.?" I asked.

"Not sure. But let's keep on plugging and figure out how to do the experiment. We'll get it flown somehow."

All of a sudden a crash—no, more like an explosion—came from the clean room. Then I heard Jim.

"Call 911!" he was screaming.

Tabitha and I bolted to the airlock door where we found Jim walking Rebecca to the kitchen. Her left arm from the elbow down was covered in blood and her hand was mangled severely and coated with glass fragments. She was shaking but not making a sound. When the cold water hit her hand she collapsed to the floor.

Johnny came around the corner, "What the hell was tha—" He fainted when he saw Rebecca's hand. Obviously, medic isn't one of the things on his resume. Tabitha put a cushion from one of the chairs under 'Becca's head. I immediately propped her feet up and held her arm over her head as well.

"We gotta stop this bleeding now!" Jim screamed.

"Calm down Jim!" Tabitha barked. "Get the first-aid kit!"

"Doc, we never replaced it after we lost it in Tsali when we went mountain biking up there, remember!" Jim looked frantic.

"Then get me a couple of towels. Fast!"

Johnny came to. "What can I do to help?"

"Go get the car and pull it around front." I told him. Looking back at 'Becca's hand once the blood flow had slowed some, I realized that her ring finger was missing and there were hundreds of shards of glass sticking out of her arm. The missing finger wasn't bleeding that badly, but the ugly gouges that the glass had made were bleeding profusely. I looked at Tabitha. She saw and only nodded back at me. Jim returned with the towels.

"Jim hold her arm up like this! I'll be right back." I grabbed a sandwich bag out of the cabinet and headed for the clean room.

There was nothing left of the vacuum chamber and there were glass fragments all around where it used to be.

"What the hell happened in here?!" After a minute or so I found her finger inside the remains of the vacuum chamber glove. It had been severed cleanly, most likely by a large piece of glass. I held the bottom of the sandwich bag and turned it inside out so my hand was on the inside (or outside rather) of the bag. I picked up the finger and turned the bag right side out and zipped it.

By the time I returned Tabitha had 'Becca's arm wrapped in the towels and 'Becca had regained consciousness. She was calm, everthing considered—she was probably in shock. Jim on the other hand, was nuts. They were getting her upright and on her way to the car.

"We're close enough to the hospital that we can have her there in ten minutes or less," I told them. Johnny was apparently out in the car waiting. I found the twelve-pack cooler under the sink and ran to the refrigerator. Once I was sure there was enough ice in the cooler I placed the sandwich bag in it and closed it up. I also grabbed my laptop on the way out.

"Johnny get us to the hospital safely. You understand me?"

"No problem, I just don't want to see the blood," Johnny replied.

I sat in the front and Tabitha, Jim, and 'Becca were in the back seat. We made 'Becca lie down with her head in Tabitha's lap and her feet in Jim's. Jim continued to hold her arm up. 'Becca was fairly catatonic.

I popped open my laptop, pulled up my duckbill antenna, and logged onto the Internet. I punched in the Huntsville Emergency Room online service. I adjusted the camera lens of my laptop to see me. A person wearing scrubs appeared on the other end and asked how they could help. After explaining the situation and putting 'Becca in the camera's field of view they took us a little more seriously. I told him our ETA was about fifteen minutes tops.

"What is her heart-rate?"

Tabitha was way ahead of me. "It is about sixty-nine beats per minute."

"How much blood loss has there been?" He seemed concerned. I realized part of the problem.

"I forgot to mention that she is very athletic and her resting heart-rate is probably much lower than that." I often get double-takes in the doctor's office when they take my pulse. Why are Americans so out of shape that when somebody isn't it's a surprise? The doctor/nurse whatever he is on the other end seemed to relax slightly.

"She's lost a considerable amount of blood. And there are glass fragments imbedded throughout her arm." Jim shouted over my shoulder.

The doctor, as it turns out, stayed online with us all the way to the door of the emergency room. When I told him we were pulling into the hospital he signed off and met us at the door. It must have been a slow day. He and an orderly helped us get 'Becca out of the car. By this time the towels were dripping wet with blood and 'Becca was getting very weak. We got 'Becca and the cooler with her appendage in it on a stretcher and they rolled her off. Jim tried to explain the accident but he had no idea why the nanotech chamber exploded. Most likely it imploded first. Tabitha had gotten Rebecca's purse and we rummaged through her wallet until we found her insurance card. Once the clerk had swiped 'Becca's card through the machine, there was nothing we could do but wait.

"Should we call her parents or anything?" Johnny asked.

"Well, she never knew who her dad was and her mom died when she was in high school. We're really all she has as far as family goes." And don't worry we're damn sure gonna take care of her, I thought. 

"What did her mom die of?" Johnny asked.

"Bad crack," is all Jim said.

After Rebecca's mom had died she worked her butt off in school and at life to make sure she wasn't going to end up another tragic story. At least now she could say she had friends and that she was part of something—something big for the entire human race. Well, if it worked.

We waited while Jim paced the floor. I read everything I could on the Internet about lacerations and puncture wounds and amputations.

"God I hope they can save her finger." I cried.

Tabitha was the only one of us who stayed completely calm. It was from years of being in very dangerous situations, I'm sure.

At some point Johnny disappeared for a while and he returned with soft drinks for everyone and a box of chicken fingers. There's a little place about three or four blocks from the hospital that makes the best chicken fingers. We ate quietly. Johnny looked at his watch and told me that he had to go pick up his kids from baseball camp and his wife from work. Since he had been laid-off, they only had the one car. We were in my SUV, so someone had to take him back to the office. Jim was in no shape to drive and Tabitha didn't know the town well enough. So I had to leave. The thought of that killed me. Johnny didn't want to leave either, but we understood it had to be done.

So I took him back to the office and his car. "I'll get to work cleaning that lab up tomorrow boss," he said.

"No! Do not touch anything in there until I figure out what happened. Okay?"

He nodded and rolled up his driver's side window as he departed.


I woke up sometime around midnight with Tabitha nudging me. Sleeping sitting up in a hospital waiting room chair is no good for a person's neck—I'll testify to that in any court.

"What is it?" I stretched and yawned.

"Here comes the doctor." Tabitha pointed down the hall. Jim was already on his feet and Sara had joined us at some point.

"The surgery went well and she's resting now," I could hear him telling Jim as we approached. "We reattached the finger and there doesn't appear to be any complications. It will take some physical therapy but she should regain full use of her arm and hand."

"That's great, Doc!" I cried. No, I mean it. I cried.

"Anything else, Doc?" Jim asked.

"I've never seen that much glass in an injury before. Were it not for the new MRI we got a few months back we might not have found it all. There may still be microscopic fragments in there that will surface over time. I don't think she will need other surgeries, though. If we can keep the skin from coagulating and keep good blood flow to her hand, we might not even need cosmetic work. It's much too early to tell about that yet."

"Can we see her?" Tabitha asked.

"Go home and get some sleep folks. She'll be out until tomorrow."

Jim looked at me, "You go home. I'm staying. Just bring me some clothes tomorrow."

The doctor looked up at that. "No. She is in the intensive care ward tonight and cannot have overnight visitors. All of you go home."

"Doc, there ain't no way in hell that we're leaving her here alone tonight!" I looked him square in the eyes so he could tell I was dead serious.

He sighed. "I figured as much. I'll get the nurse to show you to the ICU waiting area." He left shaking his head but with a smile on his face.

"Okay Jim, Sara is going to take you home while I wait here for a while. You can drop Tabitha off at the office to get her car. Get some things and come back. Then I'll go home and take a nap. I'll be back here bright and early. How is that for a plan?"

Tabitha looked at me with fire in her eyes. "Well, first off, I'm staying for now. I'll leave with you later."

I left it at that. Jim went home. Tabitha and I found the ICU waiting room and got checked in as her "Parents." Once we finally got into 'Becca's room I nearly lost it. Tears welled up and I choked them back.

"I'm so sorry 'Becca." I touched her good hand and rubbed her cheek. Tabitha looked at me with puppy-dog eyes. I didn't know she had those. Death-ray eyes, sure. Fire-and-brimstone eyes, sure. But not puppy-dog eyes.

"She'll be fine, Anson."

"I should have known whatever happened was going to happen. Have you ever heard of a nanomachine construction accident?"

"Maybe it was something you couldn't have known about. What if there was a flaw in the chamber materials or seals?"

"Not likely. We paid a lot of money to make sure it didn't have any flaws."

"It isn't your fault. Accidents happen." This time she touched 'Becca's face. The two of them had bonded considerably in the short few months they had known each other.

"Maybe it's because I don't have kids of my own or I'm not married, but she and Jim are like kids to me. Like my kids. Sure, I would've had to have them when I was fourteen but that's possible. That's about how old people were when they had kids around here a hundred years ago. Hell, it still happens." I was blabbering. I'm not sure if it was because it was late or because I was so upset. Tabitha seemed to think it was cute. She said as much.

"What about you? Why don't you have kids?" I asked her.

"I do. I have a daughter, Anne Marie Ames. She will be starting college this fall on an Air Force scholarship." She smiled at me as she laid this on me. I was absolutely stunned.

"Are you married or were you?"

"No, I've never been married, Anson. I was planning on getting married but her father was killed in a car accident before I ever knew I was pregnant. He was such a good man, a Marine jump jet pilot. He taught me everything I know about flying Harriers." She paused for a brief second. "My parents helped me raise her when it got tough on me. She made it easy though. She's a great kid."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry so much." I felt even sadder than before.

"No, really, it's okay. I came to terms with that grief twenty years ago. Besides it always cheers me up to think about Annie."

"Well, okay then, how did you manage the Air Force as a single mom?" I had never heard of such.

"That part was simple. I wasn't in the Air Force yet. I was on scholarship, so they had to honor it provided I kept my grades up. I made a point to be on the dean's list every semester." Tabitha's pride shone through the grief for a moment and she smiled.

"You are an amazing woman Tabitha. I barely made good enough grades to keep from getting kicked out of school." I laughed at that.

"Yeah, you and Einstein and Edison and countless others," she goaded.

"No comparison. They had cultural and physical things to deal with. Me, I just like to drink beer," I replied.

"And how has that worked out for you?" she laughed.

"Not too bad!" I guffawed, snorted, and hee-hawed as only a real Southern nerd can.

"Hey, will you guys hold it down—I have a headache!" Rebecca whispered lightly.

"'Becca, honey how do you feel?" Tabitha grabbed her right hand, careful of the I.V. needle in her wrist.

"My arm hurts bad," she said quietly.

"I'll take care of it." I kissed her on the forehead and went to the nurse's station for help. The nurse showed her how to use the painkiller button and then told us to let her sleep or "get out!"

As soon as the nurse left, 'Becca opened her eyes. "Thanks." She began crying.

"What is it? Are you still hurting?" Tabitha asked.

"My finger?" she asked, tears streaking her cheeks.

"Don't worry. They got all the parts back in the right places. The doctors don't even think you'll have any scars. They may do some laser treatment stuff in a few months or so," I told her.

The nurse and Jim returned. The nurse told us that only two visitors at a time could stay. Since Jim was her "husband" he should get to stay. I winked at Jim and kissed 'Becca goodbye.

"We'll see you tomorrow. Get better." We waved on our way out.

We left the hospital feeling a little better that 'Becca had come around. I still felt responsible for whatever it was that had happened. I was so zoned out I drove right past the turn for the office, reflexively driving home. Tabitha tapped me on the arm.


"I know. I missed the turn," I looked over at her.

"Not that. I don't want to go back to that apartment and all of those boxes right now."

"Do you want to come over to my place? I've got plenty of room."



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