A Glibertarians Exclusive: A Glibertarians Exclusive: Riding the String V
“I’m not going to use the Transiter the way I did at first,” Will said. “I think I can program a line-of-sight jump, seven hundred and ten kilometers to sunward, that should get us close enough to Earth to use the gravitics the rest of the way.”
“If you think so.” Anne’s voice was growing shaky again; for the hundredth time, Will made a mental note to never take her out in the Transiter again.
Will programmed the transit quickly and hit the execute key. The Transiter plunged again into the black, riding the String towards Earth.
“How long will it take?” Anne asked.
“A few minutes,” Will replied. “We’re going a bit farther than Earth to Mars.”
Ten minutes went by, then fifteen. “Shouldn’t we be there?” Anne asked tremulously.
“Yeah,” Will admitted.
“Why aren’t we?”
“I don’t know.” Will examined the boards. “Before, even when we missed, we came out after a few minutes. Now…”
A tear escaped Anne’s eye and rolled down her cheek. “Now we’re not just lost. Now we’re not even in the universe anymore.”
“Let me think,” Will snapped. Anne lapsed into silence, save that Will could hear her sobbing, softly.
Through the port, the black-that-was-not-black was all that was visible.
Think, Will told himself. There must be something you’re overlooking. You had an advanced AI look over the program, and you ran it past two different physicists. Neither of them was willing to try the Transiter but they said my mate was sound.
Charlie said my program was sound. The physics guys said my math was sound. So what went wrong?
A sudden realization: Will knew he had to change the way he was looking at the problem.
What assumptions did I make that weren’t right?
He remembered something Anne had said: “An AI, even a sentient, self-aware AI, wouldn’t think as we do. It’s just a machine.”
Just a machine. Charlie wasn’t ‘just a machine,’ as he was sentient and self-aware; his brain was partly organic.
But he still thinks in ones and zeros, Will mused.
Ones and zeroes.
What was it that he said when he had finished his scan? “It looks fine,” he said, “And I’m glad to see you left yourself an obvious way home.”
An obvious way home.
To a machine that thinks in ones and zeroes.
Will aborted the current transit. To his relief, they popped back into normal space, but nowhere near where he had hoped to emerge; they were in clear space, with a dully glowing red dwarf star about half an AU away.
“What?” Anne looked out of the port. “Where are we? What are you doing?”
“Finding a way home,” Will said. He flew over the Transit controls, setting all spatial, temporal, and hyperspatial markers to the same setting: Zero. “Remember when Charlie said he was glad we had left ourselves a way home? He’s a machine. He would think in terms of a default setting: At zero. I’m setting everything to zero. I’m hoping the Transiter will recognize that as taking us back to the beginning.”
He tapped the execute prompt. A moment in the black, and then…
“Look!” Will said. “There it is! Sutter High Orbital! Right outside the Main Chance Salvage garage. I’m signaling them; Anne, get on the gravitic controls, get ready to take us in!”
Moments later, the Transiter glided into the Main Chance garage. Will and Anne burst out of the device to find an anxious Roman Main awaiting them, his wife Willow at his side.
“What went wrong? Why are you back so soon?”
“So soon? What do you mean?”
“You barely left!”
“What do you mean, ‘barely left?’ I know there must have been some temporal slip, but not that much. I should have asked the guy at Europa base the date and time, only I didn’t think of it.”
“What? What did you say?”
“I said, I should have asked the guy that called us from Europa Base…”
“Europa Base?” Roman Main interrupted. “What do you mean? There’s nobody on Europa. There’s a listening post on Ganymede and another on Titan and they’re building one on Mimas. But there’s nothing on Europa except an automated volatiles extraction station. I ought to know, we helped pull the last Navy people off Europa when their environmental controls failed.”
“Then who did we talk to?”
Roman shrugged. “Beats me, kid. Don’t know how you could have talked to anyone out there anyway, what with signal lag and all.”
“What? We were in orbit over Jupiter. We hung out there for a while.”
“What do you mean?” Roman Main demanded. “You never went anywhere. You two took the Transiter out, sat there for a few minutes, then turned and came right back in.” He pointed. “Look at the clock. You left at 0804, Monday morning. We were watching. It’s now 0816, Monday morning.”
Will looked at the salvage company owner. He looked at Anne, who was in Willow Main’s arms, sobbing in relief. He looked back at Roman Main.
“So what happened?” Main wanted to know.
Will looked at Roman Main. He spread his hands wide. “Mr. Main,” he said, “I have no idea.”
Let’s try to get beneath the surface waste, girl
No more booby traps and bombs
No more decadence and charm
No more affection that’s misplaced, girl
No more mudcake creatures lying in your arms
What about that millionaire with the drumsticks in his pants?
He looked so baffled and so bewildered
When he played and we didn’t dance
Don’t fall apart on me tonight
I just don’t think that I could handle it
Don’t fall apart on me tonight
Yesterday’s just a memory
Tomorrow is never what it’s supposed to be
And I need you, yeah