A Small Glitch

by Bob Clay

The others at the table leaned back, most of them looking at me. At the top end were the ministerial types, then the uniforms, then various levels of secretaries and executive lackeys. But this was science, so they were all passing the ball down to me.

I looked at the single steel blue eye of the alien at the top of the table. He had spread large shimmering sheets on the table top. They were covered in strange diagrams and hieroglyphics, all in minute detail. I didn’t have a clue what they meant.

“Let me see if I understand this, “ I said to that large blue eye. “You are offering us an interstellar drive?” The alien shifted, as if uncomfortable.

“No. Since there is no way of exceeding the speed of light, you have to travel to the stars the hard way, and spend years doing it. What we are offering is an intergalactic drive.”

“If you can travel to other galaxies, surely that’s the same thing?” I asked. Again the small grey body with its embedded eye seemed to squirm in discomfort.

“Well, there’s a problem with this system. It only operates for the Planck Time or more, upwards from a billion trillion trillionth of a second. Since there is no smaller length of time than this, the minimum distance you travel is about three million light years. You simply cannot use it to travel a lesser distance.”

I sat back utterly astounded. “You travel to another galaxy in a tiny fraction of a second?” I beamed. “Why not just offset it slightly and travel back? That way you could get to stars nearby to Earth.”

Now the alien really looked uncomfortable. “Well that is the problem, “ he said, almost sheepishly. “There is no coming back. The drive in effect quantum tunnels into another universe, similar to this one according to the mathematics, but a different universe all the same. Since we estimate there are several trillion universes similar to this one, or even more, the chances of tunnelling back into our universe are too remote to be considered. You would go to another galaxy, just not one in this universe.”

I pondered this for a moment. “You’re telling me this would be a one way trip? A total shot in the dark? To all intents and purposes, you would disappear forever?”

The alien nodded, a curiously human gesture.

“But that makes the drive virtually useless,” I said.

“Yes,” he replied, and started to gather up the detailed sheets. “But believe me, you would be surprised at how many still want to go.”

Bob Clay lives in Cornwall.

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