“We can’t just go straight there?” asked Clay. “Bluehorse to Earth in one trip? It’d be quicker.”
“For you,” said Vera. “It’ll still take 92 years for the rest of the universe.”
“Well, for one thing,” said Tony Han, “92 light years is a long way for one leg, one stage, one jump, one, um, to light speed thing.”
“You think,” said Clay. “But look, we accelerate to 99 point whatever percent of the speed of light, and then we coast along at 99 point whatever percent for as long as we want, it’ll still only seem like weeks to us, why go to the trouble of decelerating and accelerating again? That’s when something might happen, right? I mean, you have engine problems and mouthholes and unexpected gravitational fields and all those things we’d just fly on by—!”
“We think that that is an illusion of safety,” said Park.
“We have, uh, run some simulations,” said Tony Han. “Trying to, you know, expect the unexpected.”
“How’s that working for you?” asked Rachel. “The unexpected?”
“It’s like this,” said Park. “Remember the dark region we encountered on our first leg, between Earth and 55 Cancri?”
“I thought it was a monster’s mouth,” said Clay. “And you’re going to say there’s something between Earth and here that ate the Colony Ship France.”
“I am going to say,” Park replied, “that one should approach that zone of space with care. It’s true that we only met the mouthholes at under 35% of light speed, and that the Primoids are like us and can’t sense or maneuver well at over 25%. But that event was exactly at the switch-over from acceleration to decelation. Did it have anything to do with the loss of the France and its support ships? I cannot know that. Am I concerned? Of course I am. No one has ever, ever sent just two one-person spacecraft, or one two-person spacecraft, which is how you will be configured, to light speed and on to another system. Look at it this way. It is now, by Earth standards, 2484 of the common era. If something happens to you, we will likely never know, especially if something happens to you on the way out: we would not even know you weren’t on schedule till the point in time at which you would have been back here in, oh, about the year 2670. I would rather you take small hops and send scout probes back to Bluehorse after each one. And pursuant to that, Mr Han and Captain Kalkar’s Miss Padfoot have designed scout probes that can go to light speed carrying your video logs. You will each be given five of them. They should not be a noticeable burden.”
“Aw, ma,” said Clay, “we have to write you from summer camp?”
Park smiled patiently at him. Tony Han said, “It’s a precaution, you see, a sort of, what is the old cliche? Message in a bottle. Besides which, everyone wants to get a little exploration out of this, and, you know, the captains would like to know about those other possible colonies.”
“Do you think they’re there?” asked Jalis, whom everyone else had forgotten was with them.
“Who? Gliese 581?” asked Rachel. “Why wouldn’t they be?”
“A million reasons,” said Park. “Which will no doubt all occur to you en route.”
“And we’re carrying these things too?” asked Vera. “These bottles we can put messages in?
Me and Tasha on our mission, whatever it is?”
“Yes,” said Park. “Objections?”
The four fighter pilots smirked at each other, the official facial expression of Alpha Wing. Then Vera Santos, the honorary member of Alpha Wing, said “No” for all of them.