The Situation of The Gravity

<bomPAH-dadadadaDEEdah> It’s been a while since Old Reliable blared that unregistered ringtone. Sure enough, the phone function’s caller‑ID display says 710‑555‑1701.  “Commander Baird, I presume? Long time no hear.”

<downcast tone with a hint of desperation> “It’s Lieutenant now.”

“Sorry to hear that. What happened?”

Project Lonesome was a bust. It took us years to assemble those two planetoids but getting them into the right orbits around the black hole was more of a challenge than we planned for. Planetoid Pine got away from us and fell down through the Event Horizon. One big blast of inforon radiation and no more project. We lost a few robot space tugs but all carbon‑based personnel survived. Medical Bay just now pronounced me healthy — it’s amazing what they can do about pervasive sub‑cellular damage these days. The Board of Inquiry decided no‑one was at fault but they down‑ranked me because I was primary advocate for a jinxed project.”

“Well, those 15-minute orbits were a gamble all along. So why this phone call?”

“You know how it is, sitting in Med Bay with nothing much to do. I was poking around and happened to read a few of the files you’re working on—”

“Which ones?”

“The Projects directory.”

“But those are client files I’ve encrypted with the latest technology.”

“Oh, please, Mr Moire, I am calling from the 24th Century. Upton’s algorithm for zeta‑function decryption is ancient history. Don’t worry, your client’s secrets are safe, although one of your clients may not be.”

“Whoa, say what? Which one? What kind of danger? They all seem healthy, look both ways before crossing the street, that sort of thing.”

“One of those projects is extremely dangerous.”

“Which one? The biometrically‑lockable archery bow shouldn’t cause any problems. The electric yoga outfit? I triple‑checked the wiring and insulation specs, they’re safe and reliable. The robot rabbit? Surely not. Does this involve lethal spy‑craft of some sort? I try to avoid military work.”

“No, it’s the perpetual motion machine.”

“Ralphie’s project? Laws of Thermodynamics and all, I told him that’s just not going to work. He insisted I check his blueprints to make sure nothing’s going to blow up. I gave them a quick glance, didn’t see anything dicey.”

“It wouldn’t be obvious, especially not in view of your primitive science—”


“No offense intended, Mr Moire, but it is primitive from my perspective. Two hundred years make a difference. Consider the state of Earth’s science in 1723 — Graham was still perfecting the pendulum clock.”

“Point taken, reluctantly. So what should I look for, and why?”

The Prime Directive applies across time periods, too, so I can’t go into detail with you. I’ll just say it’s not any one component, it’s the overall physical arrangement and what will happen when he powers up. Move the boxy bits closer together or further apart by two centimeters and the danger’s gone.”

“But what’s the danger? I can’t just tell him to reconfigure for no reason.”

“Directed gravity, Mr Moire, the sculpting of spacetime. It’s the reason we don’t need safety belts on a starship — we manufacture local gravity that always pulls toward the deck. In fact, directed gravity’s at the heart of warp drive technology. Cochrane stumbled on the effect accidentally but fortunately his lab was in a reinforced hard‑rock tunnel so damage was limited.”

“Anti-gravity? Oh, that’d be so cool. Flying cars at last, and sky‑cycles. Okay, there’d be problems and we’d need an AI-boosted Air Traffic Control agency. The military would be all over the idea. But all that’s way down the road, so to speak. I don’t understand how that puts Ralphie in immediate danger and why would a tunnel help?”

“Not anti-gravity, directed gravity. Gravity’s built into the structure of spacetime. Gravity can’t be blocked, but it can be shifted. The only way to weaken it in one location is to make it stronger somewhere else. Suppose Cochrane had first powered‑up his device on the ground in the open air. Depending on which way it was pointed, either he’d have been crushed between rising magma and down‑falling air, or…”

“I’ll tell Ralphie to re‑configure his gadget. Thanks for the warning.”

~~ Rich Olcott

  • Thanks, Alex, for inspiring this.