Journey to the End of the Universe

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
PRUTHVI NAGARAJ
Email: pruthvi_sn@yahoo.com

Copyright © March, 2010

Submitted: December 24, 2011

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Submitted: December 24, 2011

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Linda liked to stare out into the dark cold void that represented the world, the universe to her these days, although she was conditioned to this idea and visualization of the universe for several years now, and it no longer presented anything unexpected or peculiar. Occasionally, they, she and her “shipmates”, would encounter a huge vortical cloud with its smoke appearing to billow out towards them and engulf them, but which would actually reach them after an eternity. Mostly, they would come upon a nearly invisible rocky asteroid or just plain tailing debris from a long gone meteoroid. By the way, she was on the state-of-the-art faster-than-light (FTL) starship, “Galaxy-hopper”, and it was 2302. Well, it was 2302 when they had left Earth. She no longer kept track of time. How could she without the diurnal-nocturnal cycles.

She did however miss the verdant landscapes of the Rocky Mountains, the eye-raising white and grey of the Himalayas, the meal at McDonald’s, among a lot of other things. But she was glad she had her husband, Michael, as her flight partner and mission in-charge. Come to think of it, it was the announcement of this exploration mission that incited them to get married and volunteer for the mission. After all, this was their shared ultimate dream even before they were selected for astronaut training by the Space Exploration Division (SED). Besides, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, more so when the SED decided that they wanted to push their frontier the farthest with this mission. This was indeed a mission to journey to the end of the universe, and preferably back. Nevertheless, the SED’s foremost missions were the space colonization missions, when the worldwide economic interest shifted heavily towards space research after people started realizing that Earth was becoming less and less inhabitable. Private research institutions and consortiums sprouted up all over the world, with NASA imposing itself as the multiparty industry organization for setting standards worldwide for space research and development.

Ever since the inception of FTL travel, this mission was one of the mainstays on the Division’s project list, but it became conceivable only after 2256, when two scientists from Britain and India collaborated to simulate the biochemical reactions of the Calvin cycle to quasi-naturally perform carbon fixation, and invent a way to synthesize energy, oxygen and water while they were at it. Of course, instead of exactly emulating the lengthy process of photosynthesis, the scientists boosted the rate of the reactions with some of the byproducts from the new intermediary reactions and a few external catalysts. As if to constantly remind Linda of these facts, the reaction chambers and generators above her kept humming and whirring, reassuring her of her existence, air and energy. The walls separating the living chambers and the reactors above, including the inner wall of the starship was made of reinforced carbon fiber, and wasn’t entirely soundproof.

Anyhow, she liked everything about this mission, except that the foundation for the mission they had embarked on was based on the primitive, old fashioned theories conceptualizing the shape and size of the universe, which were still prevalent from the 1900s. Michael, however, had been a firm proponent of these theories. In fact, he used these theories as a platform to emerge with his own theories that led to this mission, and which put him into the fore as a potential candidate for the mission. He theorized that Earth, or on a larger scale, the Milky Way Galaxy was situated near the periphery of an elliptical slice of the universe, or at least the observable universe with its ordinary matter. Michael worked out that from where Earth was situated; the end of the universe was about .465 billion light years away. The observable universe being about 93 billion light years across meant that they had to cover only about .5% of the total universe to get to the end, beyond which was dark energy. No one had ever seen or realized that the end was this close because the universe was constantly expanding faster than light, which even with the most powerful optical instruments gave the illusion that the observable universe was endless.

But what Linda believed in was somewhat an antithesis. She believed that the universe is endless, and whatever dark matter or dark energy there is in the universe, exists circumjacent to the clumped up ordinary matter. She liked to think that the surrounding dark energy acted as a bridge between many of these clumped up matter (or multiple universes). Right now they were headed to one such dark energy highways that would have exits to several other universes. Then again she knew that she was fantasizing. Not for nothing had she also been a fiction writer for so many years on Earth. At that moment, impetuosity took over her and she grabbed her notes; the notes she had been making for her next grand novel revolving around this journey. She began jotting down impulsively. A familiar voice brought her out of her sweet reverie.

“I thought you had given up on your fantastic theories a long time ago,” quipped Michael sidling in on her.

“Oh, this is for my next book. It’s almost done; I just need a grand ending. It’s going to be really big, when…if and when we get back to Earth” said Linda.

“You want the World to accept your theories this way.”

“At least I don’t write boring journals about space-time continuum.”

“I am glad that I did. My well acclaimed paper on space-time continuum (STC) quotient is what got us this far. That and the fact the universe is constantly expanding led us to calculate Earth’s relative position” said Michael, his nostrils flaring up.

“Come on, you know how I like to rally you a bit; and you also know that I appreciate your work, and would vouch for it till the end.”

“Anyway, the STC quotient only holds true within the periverse (contraction for periphery of the universe). Beyond the periverse, the space-time continuum is potentially skewed.” The periverse was just an imaginary boundary for the observable universe. This boundary would pass through the last floating asteroid receding from the center of the universe. The universe could be viewedto be made of two zones with respect to the periverse-the outer and inner zones.

“You mean beyond the periverse, the space-time continuum is going to go for a toss. Do you know how it’s going to be out there?”

“We will soon find out. According to the data gathered by James, we should be either crossing the periverse soon, or have already crossed it. Did you see the asteroid that just drifted away from us? James thinks that is the last celestial body we are going to see.”

“Where is James anyway?” James was the only other human onboard. James was one of the so-called “geniuses” on Earth. He had studied all kinds of projectiles and could solve equations inside his head in seconds. He had also specialized in rapid prototyping strategies, and had papers on potential self-regenerative material to his name. All in all, he had a lot going on Earth. Linda couldn’t comprehend how a guy like James could throw away all that for this seemingly one-way mission.

“You know how he is” said Michael. “He is taking pictures on the specialized hyper-spectral cameras, especially now when we are about cross the periverse. Those cameras really do capture objects from about one light year away.”

Just then, James shows up holding a tiny syringe like device against his left arm. James was sweating profusely, and he looked edgy and almost on tenterhooks. “You won’t believe what I just saw” uttered James in a trance-like manner. His lips and eyelids were quavering and he was tearing up.

Both Linda and Michael jumped to their feet and slowly approached James. “What’s going on James? What’s that in your hand? Is that a hara-kiri shot?” asked Michael.

“I think I..I am losing it, Michael. This journey has taken a toll on my mind. And now those asteroid pictures I just took, oh God. I am seeing things, and I think I am going crazy. I am sorry Michael, L..Linda.”

Before Michael could leap and drag James’ right hand away, he had shot the fluid in the barrel up his left arm, and was going down on his knees. Michael caught him and laid him gently down on the deck. He knew that these shots were instantly lethal and he could do nothing now. All he could do is frantically ask James “What did you see in the pictures, James?”

“It…uh…us…” James breathed his final breath.

“No James, no.”

After a long time this way, both were still under tremendous shock. Linda came to her senses first and suggested what they had to do next. According to the standard procedure, they had to dispose his corpse by venting it into space. It was hard, but they couldn’t risk any infection. After some more time, Michael regained his composure and undertook the evacuation procedure. Seeing the body bag drifting away into the oblivion struck them with a presentiment that worst was yet to come. Michael instantly went into the monitoring room and started browsing through the pictures on James’ terminal. He came back to Linda after a while completely perplexed.

“Did you find out anything? What was that about the pictures?”

“I don’t know what happened, but the system clock is all messed up. There are probably a million pictures saved on his terminal and none of them are properly time-stamped. I couldn’t locate the recent pictures.”

“Do you think we can sample that last asteroid, you know just to find out what went amiss?”

“Our ship has been optimized for intense FTL travel and nothing else. If we use the tertiary pods for sampling the asteroid, we may risk damaging the pods or the manifolds. And besides who knows what it’s made of?”

Time seemed to go by slowly but surely. According to the mechanical wall clock, they had remained in a dazed condition, amid bouts of fitful sleep, for over 4 Earth days since the incident. Time had deprived them of their memories and numbed their senses to feel or manifest any emotions.

“So, now what? Linda finally asked.

“I suggest we head further down out for 30 Earth days, and if we don’t find anything interesting, take a U-turn and retrace back.”

“But the recuperation period for the ship after the last FTL burst is not yet complete. We still have to wait 2 more days. If we start now, we may face a black-out.” Their ship “Galaxy Hopper” was designed to cope with the high rates of FTL travel human research had achieved so far. It was configured to allow them to make 30-day-bursts of FTL travel, followed by at least a 10-day recuperation period for all the systems, failing which the power output and system performance could turn out to be suboptimal.

“I have done enough waiting. I am willing to take the chance. I will set the flight control plan for full speed travel on the same course for 25 Earth days, and automatic wormhole exit at the end of it. We might make a headway of around 25 thousand light years, away from the periverse.” They had been taking a single route since their departure from Earth. Of course, they had to veer around asteroid belts, huge debris, and what not, but they always stuck to the route. It was based on the naïve assumption that if their route oriented along a line perpendicular to a tangent on the Earth’s surface, they could always retrace it back. They referred to it as the “life line”. Establishing coordinates for the yet unexplored universe was in reality impossible.

“Alright, I will configure the hibernation cells for us. I for one cannot go through with this emotional state for 25 more days.”

The region of space beyond the observable universe had “nothing”. Nothing. Many, at the mention of the term, would conjure up a vast shimmerless free fall space with not even an iota of activity. Many others would contend themselves with the literal meaning of the term and imagine an infinitesimal point in space, constantly shrinking until it gave way to everything. There have been and there will be theories on the so called everything-about the beginning of everything, the passage of everything, and God forbid, the Armageddon coda of everything. But no Tom, Dick, or Harry has ever consorted with the concept of the ubiquitous nothing. May be because it’s devoid of everything!

Linda and Michael did wake up from their hibernation 25 Earth days later to a total blackout. The first auxiliary power source, which was connected to the main power grid, was drained too. However, for just such an eventuality, a second auxiliary source, which was completely isolated from the main power grid, had been installed for keeping the life support reactors running. Michael guessed that they had probably exited the wormhole 12 Earth hours back and were drifting wildly off course long since. “I think our directional navigator had been dead for 6 hours. Without it, we are lost. And I don’t even know if we did traverse any distance; it looks exactly the same outside” Michael said. Both understood that they were not going to find anything more here and it was time to give up. Besides, the universe inside the periverse had a lot more to offer.

“We will have to roughly estimate our position and orientation with respect to the “life line” based on the time we switched to the auxiliary source and the rate at which were drifting since. We have ample time to work things out, and then return home after the recoup period.” By home, Linda meant back inside the periverse, the observable universe, and normalcy.

They did eventually set course based on their estimate, and journeyed for 25 Earth days in hyper speed. As soon as their wormhole exit, Michael peered through the windows and the hyper-spectral cameras for any sign of movement outside or that they had made it inside the periverse. He found nothing. Linda was having a hard time refocusing her mind after those long bouts of induced hibernation. She was looking blankly through the windows and came up in front of one. She did a double take when she thought she saw a tiny flash of light with a blank spot in the middle, like a starship exiting a wormhole. She could make out the outline of a starship. “Michael, where are you? Are you seeing this?”

Michael came as fast as he could and tried to squint to what Linda was pointing. “It looks like a starship. Do you think they sent another starship behind us, you know like a contingency or a back up.” After a while the other starship started to veer off course, reminding them of what happened to them earlier. Linda couldn’t believe it and her face was a symbol of disbelief when she said “Is that us?” Were they hallucinating or was this real. It took a long time for the idea to completely sink in. They kept a silent watch for 10 Earth days when their manifested past, the other starship, headed off away from them in hyper speed.

Finally, when they forced back the rationale into the fuzzed brains, they realized that the other starship had been following the “life line” before it veered off course. The only sensible thing to do was to follow the now confirmed “life line”. They were tacitly glad that they caught sight of themselves from the past. The preternatural encounter would have seemed as anappealing space-time phenomenon to Linda, had not the debacle with James taken place. It now disturbed them. Human mind reasons and regards differently under different circumstances.

They made another burst of FTL travel along the “life line” for a little less than 25 Earth days. Still no sign of any apparent celestial body movement. Michael was sure that they would be surrounded by celestial bodies after the wormhole exit this time around. A nagging thoughtstarted to creep up Michael’s head; were they destined for the same fate as James.

Time had no relevance where they were, nor did space. And all the dependents of space and time, like life, were no longer dependent. And if life was not bound by time, absolute death would not come. More than one instance of a single life could be found anywhere, anytime, just like the encounter Linda and Michael had with themselves. Michael realized this, and even had a fleeting thought of preventing James’ demise by going back to that moment, like in the movies. But he wasn’t going to meddle with what he did not fully understand. Besides, what’s done is done. Anyhow, if and when Michael would take a look through the onboard hyper-spectral camera, he would see the last celestial body receding away from the center of the universe and towards them, expanding the horizons of the universe and the space-time fabric, with a simplistic grace that seemed to mock the diminutive human race and its achievements. James would never have missed capturing such a spectacle.

***


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