Even a Nobel Prize-winning, theoretical genius occasionally acts brain dead.
Having realized that my project was in danger of being taken over by the military, I bespoke Raul, my faithful friend of many talents, and we left the Los Alamos Pure Research Compound. Ostensibly, we were to deliver a mockup to Ames; nobody questioned our requisitioning a portable-environment semi. We left at 4 PM, and headed towards El Paso.
The post-flowering cactii, the desolate, drier-than-usual desert, the cloudless sky (usually some of my favorite sights) seemed only bleak harbingers of gloom and doom. Even the towering dust devil out my window held no charm; rather, it seemed to mock me, also. Would I ever again see such vistas?
At about the time it occurred to me that our present task would be much safer if I used my equipment (which we hauled like so much dead weight behind us), the situation devolved instantly to the point where we had no choice.
Just minutes shy of the Texas border, blue & red flashing lights appeared in the rear view mirrors, closing fast. The USAF-issue radio mounted in the dash told us the MPs were indeed hot on our trail. An authoritative, angry voice demands that we "pull over right now". I knew the Cobras couldn't be too far away, but the sky was clear so far.
While the big, heavily-modified Kenworth would pull 120 mph all day, even in the summer desert heat, the next couple of miles would take us through the foothills of the Franklin Mountains, up and down steep hills and around the kinds of corners teenage girls sing about losing their hotrod loves to.
Raul threw me a questioning look; I thought only a second more. "Pedal to the floor, Raul," I said as calmly as I could. Raul stared ahead, his body relaxed, and the turbo-diesel roared as we began to accelerate from the 85 or so we had been doing.
I yanked open the case beside me on the seat, pulled out "The Interface", and pressed the POWER/TEST button. Nearly two hundred green lights glowed briefly and cheerily; then the system came fullly alive. I slapped the "Track Present" switch - it instantly glowed blue. That's why we brought the PE trailer; to keep the equipment powered on. Several groups of backlit digital readouts flashed numbers rapidly, then settled down. Only a few kept changing slowly; apparently the new, untested, autoscaling modules were working.
In the back, the new tracking computers, based on the Air Force AMTATS (Automatic Multiple Target Acquisition & Tracking System) was working as well. Like AMTATS, the N-Dimensional, Multiple System, Vector Calculus unit (NDMSVC) tracks multiple items simultaneously. However, whereas AMTATS is concerned with finding and tracking local threats (planes, missles, etc), NDMSVC is concerned with tracking an entity's exact location and motion in the space-time continuum, including taking into account all systems of which the entity is a part, and considering the effects on the nearest 6 gravitational influences on that entity.
In other words, Andy (as we call it) can tell where on the Earth we are, and the direction, angular velocity & acceleration relative thereto. In addition, Andy considers the motion of our solar system, our galaxy, and what we know of the rest of the universe. Using this data, Andy can not only track where and when we are, but predict where and when we will be, even if those coordinates are run through a transformation.
Thus, when connected to my magnum opus, the Space-Time-Transformer (STiX), Andy can control our location and motion instantaneously.
Glancing in the mirror, I notice the flashing lights appear larger and closer to us. About 200 yards and closing. Quickly, I override the safeties and enable the sensors. I point with the wand at the place on the map (being generated in real-time by onboard computers and navigational satellite data) we want to be (directly in front of us, almost), and tap in the transformations we need.
I hesitate, and glance again at Raul, who grins confidently back at me. If all goes well, just as we hit the blind curve ahead, we will simply disappear from our lane, and reappear in the other lane, heading back the way we came. If all goes well. If several thousand lines of rewritten, highly optimized, Objective Modula-6 code function correctly in their first, real-world test. If the geomagnetic and radar detectors and sensors are still properly tuned. If...
Too many ifs. How do the people at HP ever get anything done, worrying about all those IFs?
As the double yellow line suddenly darts to the right, amidst a colorful forest of signs reading "Dangerous Curve" and similar cheerful warnings, the universe lurches wildly, and the view outside goes berserk. As the lab experiments predicted, all motion inside the truck seems to freeze, yet my mind still receives and processes data. This has extreme metaphysical consequences, I feel sure, but I have no time for analysis right now. In fact, I am not sure whether I have time at all anymore.
In rapid succession, we are treated, as it were, to several slow-motion vignettes: a view of our galaxy from a location I guess to be near Tau Ceti; a truly bizarre planetary landscape unlike anything from my wildest dreams; our Sun flashing by extremely closely at an incredible speed, balooning to encompass the entire view on my side and then dwindling to nothingness just as quickly; a phantom truck identical to ours spinning wildly away into a vortex of emptiness right in front of the windshield. Throughout the "show", there is no sound, no sense of motion as far as we are concerned.
Suddenly, without warning, we are back on the road, but heading back the way we came, in the other lane, speeding away from the curve, and, hopefully, towards a few minutes to think and plan. Apparently we are very close to perfection.
But we aren't there yet. There is a slight lurch in my stomach, as if falling, and suddenly the truck attempts (briefly) to stop. There is a horrid screech of rubber, as if a dozen crazed teenagers had all left a stoplight in a hurry, and then things are normal, except that the ride seems rougher now. (Subsequent investigation suggests we rematerialized a few millimeters below the top of the road surface, and ripped some of the tread off the tires due to the truck's tremendous monentum.) The ghost of a silly, happy smile begins to form on my lips, and Raul opens his mouth as if to laugh...
My eyes and subconscious scream at me simultaneously. The missing variable I always fear turns out not to be in the theory or equipment this time, but in the scenario. The MP had latched onto our draft and was sitting right on our bumper when we transformed, probably watching our taillights like a hawk, waiting for us to slow. He was, of course, outside our STiX field, and could not have foreseen such an "impossible" maneuver. The MP hit his brakes, too late, and sails almost gracefully off the cliff behind us. At our speed, we hear nothing.
I am numb. Am I a murderer? I fear to consider. I glance at Raul beside me - clear-headed Raul, a model of morality and a paragon of virtue. "Raul?", I croak.
Raul considers, shrugs his shoulders. "He shouldn't have been that close. It was stupid to do. They know this area as well as us."
I agree; nevertheless guilt rips like a famished weasel at my guts.
The readouts show massive quantities of energy unleashed and absorbed - the net result is nearly zero, but I constantly strive to comprehend what effect all this has on the universe around us (other than the obvious!)
Raul slows, pulls off and turns the rig around in the deserted, former parking lot of a gutted diner, whose tattered sign appears to have once read "Debbi's Diner - Home Cooking". We return to the road, headed towards El Paso once again, happy to be alive, but pensive. Raul, cool as a cucumber, takes it easy through the curves; we should make El Paso long before dark. We do not look down the mountainside as we drive, more afraid, perhaps, of the ghosts of conscience than of heights.
Last updated: 6 May 1994
Copyright 1989, 1994 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved.
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This copyright may be freely used, distributed and modified subject to the conditions noted above in the preceeding paragraph. Miles O'Neal <roadkills.r.us@XYZZY.gmail.com> [remove the "XYZZY." to make things work!] c/o RNN / 1705 Oak Forest Dr / Round Rock, TX / 78681-1514