I was walking down the corridors of Hermes station and all around me was bedlam.  Bedlam in the fullest meaning of the word, jabbering, violent insanity.  People I knew, people I had worked with for the last two years, friends, were savaging each other, strangling, beating, biting, gouging out eyes.  The spray of blood in low gravity was like a mist on a chilly fall morning.  The walls were coated in it.  I could taste it in the air. I turned to look out one of the windows and saw what looked like another orbital station.  But it wasn’t.  I had never seen a design like that before.  It spun too fast. Suddenly in the window appeared an eye.  It filled the entire two-meter width of the window staring right at me.  Staring right through me.  Then the noise.  It shattered my thoughts.  It was all around me.  It wasn’t coming from the station speakers or the coms system.  It was in my brain, threatening to destroy my sanity.

I woke up.  Gasping, panting, oozing a cold sweat which beaded on my forehead and slowly ran down my face to soak into the pillow.  I lay there, breathing deeply, my head throbbing with the memory of the sound.

I’ve had the dream before.  It started a few months ago.  Just brief flashes at first.  But as time progressed, it came more frequently and for longer.  Every time, it became more violent and more painful.

It’s been a year since I first arrived aboard the station.  The process of joining the project was arduous.  The first six months were near-earth orbit training for deep station deployment.  Station protocols change when you can’t disembark for routine planet-side R-and-R.  Then there was the 35 days of that time spent aboard a runabout transport just getting here from Earth.  The training and preparation are to get you ready for the workload.  Deep space positions have been compared to oil rig work of the 20th century, working every day for long hours with little downtime.  Some people thrived under those conditions; some people broke down.  I refused to be one of the people who broke down.

I haven’t told anyone about the dreams.  The last thing I wanted was to be diagnosed with something that would get me rotated back to Earth.  Joining Project Talaria was a dream come true and I didn’t want to be forced to abandon it as someone who couldn’t handle the stress of the deep space deployment.

Project Talaria was the most ambitious undertaking by humanity since, and including, man first split the atom or launched himself beyond the bounds of Earth to step foot upon the moon, as it was the grandchild of both of watershed moments in human technological development.

Sputnik was the first human satellite in orbit around the Earth.  The Soviets made that breakthrough over a century ago.  The space race was kicked off and Americans won it, eleven years, 9 months, and 16 days later when Neil Armstrong took one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind in the regolith of the Sea of Tranquility.  The beginning of the 21st century saw the privatization of space launch technology, and with that, the second space race.  This time a race for profit.

The limiting factor there was chemical rockets.  Most of the weight of a rocket at launch, roughly 90% of it, is the fuel needed to achieve orbit.  Most people, looking at the towering monstrosity of a chemical rocket hundreds of feet tall and weighing millions of pounds, a veritable flying skyscraper, only has a payload capacity of three of four percent its total mass.  Once a ship entered orbit, travel to the next celestial body, the moon or Mars, was accomplished by Newtonian physics.  Give the space capsule a shove and let inertial carry it to its destination.  The problem is that the system is slow.  Transit to Mars took months.  The moon took days.  It simply wasn’t profitable to take tiny crews long distances.

Progress beyond Earth orbit advanced slowly.  Chemical rockets and the physics approach was phased out in favor for nuclear thermal propulsion rockets.  Nuclear reactors would generate heat which would be used to accelerate a working fluid, usually hydrogen, to generate thrust.  This was a moderate improvement.  Enough thrust was generated to cut a nine-month trip to Mars down to five months.  The bigger gain was in payload ratio.  The total propulsion mass needed accelerate a ship was decreased so that mass could be replaced with cargo and passengers.

The big change that made deep space possible and profitable was matter-antimatter propulsion (commonly known as MAM engines).  Suddenly, it wasn’t the spirit of Isaac Newton but the spirit of Paul Dirac that was guiding mankind through the vacuum of space.  Hydrogen and anti-hydrogen would make contact in a shielded chamber and annihilate each other down to the sub-atomic level.  The amount of energy this reaction generated is mind boggling.  It is the physical manifestation of Albert Einstein’s famous equation, e equals m c squared.  One kilogram of hydrogen and one kilogram of anti-hydrogen produce 43 megatons of energy.  That’s equivalent to ten W88 thermonuclear warheads or almost thirty million barrels of oil.  A spaceship carrying a hundred kilograms of hydrogen and anti-hydrogen had enough energy to propel itself under constant acceleration to Neptune and back. Under a constant 1g acceleration, a MAM engine ship could reach Neptune in about three weeks.  Mars could be reached in two days.  The entirety of our solar system could be reached (given the relative positions of the planets) in the same time scale as 20th century international commercial freight.

In its infancy, this was the most expensive way to travel.  It took huge quantities of energy to produce tiny amounts of anti-hydrogen in particle accelerators, but anti-hydrogen is an infinitely renewable resource.  Solar flares are anti-matter factories.  Just like the Forty-Niners, Stampeders, and Wildcatters, the discovery and demand for a new natural resource ignited a boom in men and technology to press into a new frontier to try their hands at making money.  This time, it was close orbit of the sun to collect anti-protons and positrons ejected from solar prominences to generate anti-hydrogen.  The men willing to fly as close as they dare to a billion tons of solar matter being ejected a hundred-thousand miles from the corona of the sun could strike it obscenely rich.

In the end though, we were effectively trapped within our own solar system.  The limit is the speed of light.  Under constant acceleration, eventually a ship will into that barrier.  In practice, the upper limit for ship speed is about 0.9c or 90% the speed of light, that’s both a combination of physics and unavoidable engineering inefficiencies.  To reach the heliopause, the boundary of our solar system and interstellar space, a distance of about 120 AU (astronomical units, the average distance between the Earth and the sun) takes about a month.  By about 80,000 AU out, or just under a third of the distance to Proxima Centauri, any ship has reached its peak velocity, regardless of how much more fuel it continues to burn. To get to Proxima Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor, takes about four years.  Sirius takes over five years.

No deep space expeditions have ever been launched to a nearby star.  Some have proposed reviving induced hibernation technology to try it, but that has been universally rejected by government and every reputable space company.  In the days of nuclear thermal propulsion, some space companies experimented with induced hibernation, commonly referred to as hyper sleep.  Putting people into a chemically induced coma and then slowing their metabolism down to 10% of normal was supposed to make the nine month plus trip to a Jovian planet easier.  It was an imperfect solution.  Not just was the process a disgusting medical procedure, but after months of hibernation, the people were disabled and had to spend weeks in recovery to be able to work at their destination, negating the value of hyper sleep to begin with.  Putting a person in hyper sleep for four years would almost guarantee to be fatal, either in transit (if the person was lucky) or after they were revived and had completely atrophied.

The only way to make the trip to another solar system is exceeding the limitations of the speed of light.

This is what Project Talaria was supposed to accomplish. It is humanity’s united effort to develop faster than light travel.  A joint operation conducted by a consortium of governments and private space companies, all of which will share in the benefit of FLT and the bounty that exists beyond our solar system.

According to the physicists, true faster than light travel is still impossible.  We cannot break that fundamental law of the universe: no object with mass can exceed the speed of light.  We’re not technically breaking that fundamental law; we’re going around it.  Apparent FTL travel.  The ship travels at sub-light speed, but relative to its departure and destination locations, it traveled faster than the speed of light.

The station selected to be the operational center of this endeavor is the Hermes, the furthest deep space, space station ever created.  We are 119 AU out from earth, right at the edge of the heliopause.  As far as we could go and still be protected from interstellar radiation by our sun.  When the station was first constructed, it was christened as the Bellerophon.  A deep space science station in orbit near Neptune, before being retrofitted for Project Talaria, renamed, and towed to the very edge of solar system.

The distance from Earth is a factor of safety.  The technology being developed here is based on the single largest industrial accident in human history, the.  Most people know of that, how could they not.  The death toll is estimated to be upwards of 25,000 people.  Nearly the entire municipality of Meyrin, Switzerland was wiped off the face of the planet, replaced with a nearly perfectly hemispherical crater almost two kilometers across.  What most people don’t know is what caused it.  CERN was attempting an experiment on quantum gravity, trying to isolate massless particles predicted in the Weinberg–Witten theorem.  Quantum gravity has been observed to slow down neutrinos, which are not affected easily by normal matter.  The details of the physics experiment the scientists at CERN were attempting to is well beyond my comprehension, but suffice it to say, the experiment could be described as a success. The unanticipated side effect was creating a gravity wave that ripped a hole in the fabric of the universe 175 meters below a suburb of Geneva.

That is what we are trying to do here.  Once the surviving scientist figured out what they had done, they realized what the controlled application of this technology could do.  This isn’t without controversy; however, countless people were irradiated with lethal doses of x-ray radiation before the medical x-ray was fully understood.  Two Manhattan Project physicists were killed by the Demon Core before the Trinity test proved out that technology.  Sometimes the greatest knowledge is paid for with the highest price.  Our mission is to rip a controlled hole in the fabric of the universe and pass through it at sub-light speed, finally pushing the achievable frontiers of mankind beyond the bounds of our solar system.

When Project Talaria was first announced three years ago, I knew this was the sort of project I wanted to be on.  At first, the recruitment was heavily in favor of scientists.  People who could unravel the mystery of the of what happened in the 60 attoseconds under Geneva that put a potmark in the face of Central Europe that could be seen from orbit.  But more recently, recruitment has focused on engineers and technicians, moving Talaria from the theoretical phase to the practical phase. Once space-time is breeched, we still need to build a ship capable of traversing a hole in the universe.  This is my specialty.

Hermes Station is a very simple spoke and wheel design.  A revolving cylinder 20 kilometers in diameter and 3,000 meters high at the edge.  The entire station rotates around a central point at a rate of 0.3 rotations per minute, or one rotation every 200 seconds, creating an artificial gravity of 1 g at the main working deck, through centripetal acceleration.  When you are aboard the station, you stand with the soles of your feet facing the outer wall and your head pointed toward the center.  The large diameter of the station minimizes difference between the apparent gravitational forces between decks.  If the diameter were smaller, as you ascended decks towards the station hub, the centripetal force would decrease, and the apparent gravity would decrease.  Of course, this happens aboard the Hermes, but the gravity change from climbing up two decks is imperceptible.

The center of the hub is the docking station because it has a zero angular velocity, making docking a ship relatively easy.  Then there is the low gravity science region.  This area is laboratory space set aside for a variety of experiments conducted at less than one-half G.  The next region is the habitation zone.  It operates as roughly one-half to three-quarters G of artificial gravity.  This gives enough gravity for comfortable living tasks like sleeping and bathing but is too high for low G sensitive research.  Out from that is more lab space for ease of use at near Earth gravity.  The outer most area of the station is the largest particle accelerator ever built, almost 63 kilometers of acceleration tunnel.

One thousand kilometers from the station and further from Earth is our targeting satellite array.  Hermes will generate a neutrino beam that interacts with the array, and if everything goes well, will tunnel through space-time and facilitate apparent FTL travel.

A few months ago, we achieved a major breakthrough. We had successfully stabilized a hole in space time long.  Prior to that, we had been only able to repeat the LHC Incident, obliterating our target satellite in the process.  Generating a stable hole, even for a few seconds, was proof that our theory was correct.

That night I had the first nightmare.  At that time, it was just the briefest flashes of images.  Nothing I could really identify but with an overall feeling of horror.

Progress proceeded quickly after that.  We were able to stabilize a hole long enough to send through quantum entangled telemetry beacon.  The first probe traveled twenty-eight light hours in a fraction of a second.  FTL had officially been achieved.

The whole station threw a party.  I did my best to enjoy it, but I couldn’t get the images from my nightmare out of my mind.  I would see people congregating in a hallway having fun, and it would flash over with these same people in the grip of madness, hands at each other’s throats, spitting and cursing, then it would instantly pop back to reality.

I was hallucinating.  It had to be an effect from working so close to the cyclotron.

That night was the first time I saw the other station in my nightmare and heard the sound.  Heard doesn’t come close to describing it.  It wasn’t in my ears.  It was in my head.  It was in every part of me.  It thrummed and hurt deep in my brain.  It was obvious in my dream that it came from the other station.  It’s impossible for sound to travel through the vacuum of space but somehow it did.  The other station was unlike anything built by man.  It was a series of concentric rings, all spinning with no spokes connecting them.  I couldn’t understand what I was seeing.

It was undeniable that I was losing my mind.  I dreaded sleep.  I threw myself into my work, pushing longer and longer shifts to give my mind something to focus on.  I took stimulants and drowned myself in terrible instant coffee to stay awake.  Nevertheless, I would eventually crash from sheer exhaustion, only to be visited by the alien station, images of gore, and the sanity-rending noise.

Time held no meaning for me anymore.  Under normal conditions, it’s difficult to maintain a consistent pattern of work and sleep in deep space due to lack of a night and day.  Without a regular routine, fighting sleep like a wild animal, the days became long blurred stretches of partially conscious stress, only to be interrupted by nightmares as soon as I slipped up and let my eyes close for too long.

I continued to push through, hoping to complete my part of the project before I completely lost it and could return to earth under honorable conditions.

Finally, we had our breakthrough.  We successfully passed the test ship through a hole.  A vessel large enough to carry a crew, and according to the sensors on board, able to transport that crew safely under FTL conditions.  The next test would carry the first human beings through a breach in space-time a distance approximately half of a light year in only a few seconds.

I was called to the flight director’s office.  I stood before his desk at as much attention as I could maintain.  It took some time for his words to fully penetrate my consciousness.  I was assigned to be about the first manned flight through hole in space-time.  They needed real time monitoring and assessment of the breach from the inside.  I had been working on the quantum gravity generator on the target probe, so I was the perfect candidate to be on the ship.

My head swam as my inner ear reacted to the sudden loss in apparent gravity.  Going from the centrifugal gravity environment of the station to zero-gravity of the ship.  Had I had the stomach to eat anything, I probably would have thrown up.  However, I was empty, my appetite collapsing as my body was tortured by my subconscious.  I gently floated backward into my seat and strapped myself in with the four-point harness.  I took my position in front of my console and prepared to be one of the first humans to travel faster than light.

My head slammed back into the headrest of my seat when the ship accelerated at its standard 1 g to the 1,000 km safe distance to engage the FTL drive.  Normally this was a gentle shove, but after weeks of sleeplessness and near starvation, I didn’t have the strength to resist even 1 g.  I just laid there, letting the artificial weight of the world drag me down into my seat.  Ten minutes later, I felt my body lighten and drift against my safety harness as our deceleration burn stopped and we regained weightlessness.

The countdown began.  The first mission is supposed to be simple.  The cyclotron would fire a beam at the target probe activating the quantum gravity generator which would open the hole in space-time and we would travel through it.  After 15 minutes, the system be turned off and we would reenter normal space like coming out of a tunnel.  We would send a high intensity focused laser ping back at the station.  When they received the ping, they would reactivate the quantum gravity tunnel and we would return home.  The time differential between when we sent the ping and they received it would tell us exactly how far we traveled FTL.  Our calculations estimated that our probes were transversing space at speed of 60 c, which would get us to our nearest stellar neighbor in about a month.  Fifteen minutes of travel would put us about 108 AU from the Hermes, and we could expect to wait in deep space for 15 hours until the tunnel opened for our return home.  The ping would give us our precise speed and distance traveled.

A blinding light came through the windows on one side of the ship.  The tunnel was open.  Once again, my body was slammed back into the seat as we accelerated through the event horizon.

My head exploded. The sound of my nightmares was pounding in my head drowning out the sounds of the ship and everything on board.  Everywhere was light so intense it hurt my eyes.  I closed my eyes as tight as I could, but the light was still blinding.  It was like staring directly into the sun but from everywhere all at once.

The sound and light grew in intensity beyond any level I could have imagined.  My world was thrumming, blinding agony.  It grew and grew until I thought I would die, then suddenly, it stopped.

“This is not your realm.” A voice boomed in my head.

“You have trespassed beyond your station. You have proposed and accomplished the impossible.” The words overwhelmed me.  Like the noise of my nightmares, it came from within my head.

“You were scattered all over the world and your languages were confused to prevent such an achievement.  Your builders will be confused again.  You will be spared as a messenger to the people of your world, not to trespass into this realm again.”

I was weightless.  My arms floating limply at an awkward angle by my sides.  I was strapped into my seat.  My head was clear.  Clearer than it had been in a long time.  I felt like I was finally sobering up after a bad hangover.

The rest of the ship was empty.  Most of the panels were dark.

The ship slowly rotated in space and began to accelerate.  A red light was flashing somewhere in the cockpit, the light reflecting off the blank screens.  The ship entered emergency limp-home mode.  The autopilot would lock onto the Hermes’ transponder and return to the station and automatically dock.

As the ship approached the station, I could see another object next to the Hermes.  Even from several kilometers away I could see it.  It was enormous. I recognized it.  It was the other station from my nightmare.  The ship entered the docking approach vector from above the station to align with the central hub.  From that angle, I could see the other object wasn’t another station at all, but why I thought it was.  It was comprised of six concentric rings; the largest ring was larger that the Hermes particle accelerator.  Each ring was covered in eyes, all rotating and revolving around a central eye as large as the Hermes docking port.

The ship docked and the airlock opened with a hiss.  I drifted out of the ship and down the central hub to the spoke shaft that went directly to the flight control center.  The spoke elevator door opened and when I grabbed the handrail, I started to rotate and feel the tug of centrifugal gravity pulling me.  I climbed into the elevator and tapped the screen to send the elevator on its way.

The elevator came to a stop as I felt the centrical gravity reach 1 earth g.  The door opened into the aftermath of the violence and chaos I saw every time I tried to sleep.

There was blood everywhere.

Bodies littered the corridor.  Side doors to briefing rooms and control rooms were open, and as I walked past, I could see the same horrific scene in them. I knew everyone aboard the Hermes was dead, having ripped each other apart, beat each other to death, driven to violent madness by the noise that had been haunting me for months.  They had done it while I drifted through space.

There was only one thing left for me to do.  What I had been chosen to do.  I went into mission control and to the master particle accelerator control panel. I would spin up the cyclotron to maximum output, override the safeties, and discharge it into a quantum gravity target at point blank range.  Well inside the safe distance, the gravitational shock would crush the Hermes as effectively as any black hole.  I set the program to discharge automatically.

I walked back down the corridor to the elevator, up the spoke to the central hub, and then down the central hub to the long-range transport ship.

We had happened upon a knowledge that was too great for us, and we used it to tear a hole in reality, and step foot into a kingdom that was not meant for mortals.

The crew of the Hermes the staff of Project Talaria had been punished for our transgressions.

I was going to return to earth to warn the human race that we had overstepped our bounds.

As the ship departed from the Hermes, I looked one last time at the thing that had come into our universe.  The rings within in rings all covered in eyes.

I had bore witness and I would spread its message.



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By J. Kb

2 thoughts on “Project Talaria”
  1. Critique.
    First of all, I notice there are no other comments. Kind of not surprising. Sorry, but this is not your best. However, there is a lot of potential.
    Few items. The “God” thing is a bit trite. Find a different twist to it. That humans broke through a barrier they should never have broken through is good. There a consequences to it that is not immediate war with some alien race is even better. (Read the Conquerors series from Timothy Zahn. https://www.goodreads.com/series/41505-the-conquerors-saga). The war happens because tech harmless to humans harmed the aliens. Will not spoil the rest of the story.
    The worker having the premonition dreams is a good teaser of what is to come. It builds tension, and so does the stress felt due to lack of sleep. But, why is this person chosen? Not a hint. Then again, does there really need to be a reason? Perhaps it is because he went through the opening. Which implies the alien could work backward in time. (Or time is no different than moving around in space to them… Common sci-fi theme) Build on that a bit more.
    Excellent discussion on the tech. As a hard sci-fi story, this is very good. Reminds me a bit of early AC Clarke. Lots of science, very little conversation. The plot is the technology, with human interaction secondary. I cut my teeth on that kind of sci-fi. Which is probably one of the reasons I am not a huge fan of Dune.
    I am not going to taint any revisions to this story with plot ideas. Just build on this, or improve that. But, definitely do something about the “god” aspect. If you want to leave it as “the creator is keeping its creation in the bottle” absolutely do that, but improve it. One of the worst plot twists ever is “Two survivors of a plague that destroyed humanity are named Adam and Eve.”
    If this is chapter one and future chapters will tell what happens after “God’s messenger” returns to Earth, all of the above is simply food for thought. What happens next? War against the eye entity? Or, does a religous cult start up to worship the entity and continue the experiments to get closer? Does humanity fall back to the stone ages, with all tech outlawed?
    This a just a critique, not criticism. There is potential here, but it is untapped. Find a way to use it.

  2. Loved it. I personally enjoyed the “God” angle. Maybe it was our God, maybe it was a god, who knows. As for further chapters, this story is great on its own. But if you have more in you I would happily read it.

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