by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
After the Tuesday morning assignments were handed out, Gina Lance, Theresa Knight, and Rexford Tyler — alias Canary, Star Lass, and Timepiece — gathered in Rex’s laboratory. The girls were wearing backpacks, but Theresa was skeptical about the whole adventure.
“Terry, tell me — how did you find the coordinates?” she asked her younger teammate.
“You know that ancient flying globe in my room?” Theresa asked her friends.
“How could we not? You show it off all the time!” It was a Knight family heirloom, a battered sphere the size of a softball that could fly. It hummed as it flew, fired weak energy blasts, and dodged blows directed at it. Family legend told that Ted Knight, the first Starman, had built it after watching one of his favorite movies and had used it to train his sons in the use of the cosmic rod.
“I couldn’t sleep the other night, so I was just flying it around the room, making it do loops and things, and I suddenly wondered what it used for power. Turns out there is actually an old gravity rod and a storage battery inside! I was curious, so I opened it up. I’ve never seen a working G-Rod before! The G-Rod was throttled way down, so I opened it up, too, and there was a message button inside. It was a letter from Tracy Knight to her brother — my granddad — and it had some encrypted information in it. I decrypted it. It contained some coordinates and some computer codes.”
She looked very sad. “Tracy vanished just about the same time Granddad got the letter. He was planning to set out looking for her, but then he got killed in a flitter accident.” She started sobbing quietly. “You know, I’ll bet that crash wasn’t really an accident! He must have known his life was in danger, and he hid the button in the globe.”
Her friends were uncomfortable; neither Canary nor Timepiece were good at dealing with emotions. Gina didn’t quite know how to comfort her younger friend. Rexford didn’t even try; he just changed the subject.
“Hey, we don’t have much time. Put on these environment belts; we don’t know if there will be atmosphere where we’re going.”
“Rex, where are we going?” Canary asked, glad of the change of subject. “Did you check it out?”
He looked hurt. “Of course I did! The coordinates are in an empty star system, and we don’t have any close-up scans or pictures. Survey records show no planets in the system, only rocks. Long-range photos from an inhabited system a couple of light years away show that there really is something exactly at these coordinates, but the pics are too fuzzy to show details. Looks to be about the size of 50000 Quaoar.”
Theresa was looking interested, even through her tears for her dead and missing relatives. “About eight-hundred miles in diameter,” she chimed in for the benefit of Canary, who had almost zero interest in dwarf planets way out in the Kuiper belt, but who also hated having to ask for more information about anything.
“Yup, and just in the right place. We leave in three minutes; belt check!”
The Legionnaires clicked on their belt environment fields, and Rex checked them with a scanner built into his chair.
“You know,” he said reflectively, “this is probably a first. I doubt if any human has ever used a boom tube before.”
“What?!” Gina hollered. “I thought you tested it! How do we know it’s safe?”
“Relax, leader lady!” Theresa countered calmly. “Of course we tested it. It’s at least as safe as using your sonic powers for dry-cleaning.” Theresa smirked at her, her tears momentarily forgotten.
“How the freep was I supposed to know a simple ultrasonic note would dissolve every military uniform in that room? You’d think cadet dress uniforms would be more durable!” Canary was exasperated. “And just maybe that two years would be long enough for some people to forget!”
“Hey! How come I’ve never heard this story?” Rexford was looking very interested.
“Classified, Rexy. You’re not old enough!” Gina snarled.
“She’s too embarrassed!” Theresa laughed. “Bet you never saw so many–” Gina snarled at her, too.
“Well, I’ll have to hear it later. Time to fly!” Rex suggested. They had already discussed the best way to go about this.
Theresa enclosed the three of them in a cosmic rod-powered bubble that lifted smoothly into the air.
Rex, coordinating with his Gernback AI program, continued with a countdown. “On my mark, move ahead, in three… two… one… go!”
A very loud boom echoed throughout the lab as a tube of energy opened in front of the heroes. The bubble floated forward into the entrance of the tube, which closed as soon as they started down its iridescent length to their destination.
“Knight Base, here we come!” Star Lass yelled exuberantly to the passing air. Canary was silently praying that General Urbane didn’t need to recall them to active duty today. Timepiece was studying the boom tube from the inside.
The tube dropped the heroes into dark silence. The gravity was very light. Rex started to say, “That’s one giant leap for the Le–” and he was quickly drowned out.
An alarm shattered the silence, blaring loudly, and hidden speakers started repeating “Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!” over and over again. The darkness was suddenly pierced by dim red emergency lighting. The weird lighting revealed they were in a corridor with closed doors along either side.
Star Lass staggered and would have fallen if Canary hadn’t grabbed her, and Timepiece moaned in pain. Canary’s mouth opened in reaction. She wasn’t making any noise they could hear, but Star Lass and Timepiece immediately felt much better.
Canary hand signed in Legion battle talk, “Sonic stunners!” Star Lass nodded and strengthened her force-field, making it soundproof. This blocked out the siren, vocal alarm, and the stunner. Canary stopped her silent scream. Then the corridor outside them filled with mist.
Rex was reading the display of a laser spectrometer built into his chair. “Knockout gas.”
“A real belt-and-suspenders type, this Tracy Knight!” Canary commented with an approving tone. “Wonder what comes next?”
They found out quickly. The red lights brightened and started flashing and changing colors, and within seconds, the wild light show was making them dizzy and disoriented. Once again Star Lass adjusted the force-field, and it became opaque.
“Opaque it over the whole spectrum,” Canary ordered.
“Probably lasers next,” Timepiece agreed.
Star Lass had barely finished this operation when the bubble actually jerked around them. “Good guess, guys!” Her friends smiled at her disdainfully. “Oh, it was more than a guess, huh?” she asked innocently. Then she gasped — and the bubble started to shrink.
“They just stepped up the power — a lot!” she told her friends, strain making her voice suddenly husky. “And they’ve got some kind of magnetic nutcracker trying to crunch us, too! I can’t shield all of us for long.”
“Rex?” Canary asked. “Your turn!”
Rex closed his eyes for a second, and the two girls felt the slight thunk that indicated that Timepiece had shifted them into the future. “Done!” he announced. “One femptosecond should be enough.”
Star Lass sighed in relief and dropped her shield. The three of them were now safe from anything in the present. They could still see the flashing lights outside, but they were much dimmer, almost like looking through thick smoked glass. They relaxed, but Canary chided them back to business.
“Analysis so far?”
Timepiece looked at some of the readouts and displays set into the arm of his chair. “Temperature about thirty-six degrees F. Pressure a little low, about twelve PSI. Composition, pretty standard for low-pressure environments, nitrogen seventy-four percent, oxygen twenty-five percent, everything else in trace proportions. Probably a little stale and stinky. Virtually no air movement until this bombardment started. For just an instant after we arrived, background radiation was about five percent above planetary norms but standard for an asteroid base, then it almost doubled, though the level is still safe. A pretty big reactor went from standby to online when that alarm went off.”
“No life signatures.” Star Lass was using her cosmic rod to scan the environment. “There is a lot of high-frequency radio noise consistent with computer operation, digital dissonance, as it were. The computer came online at the time of the alarm.”
“Sounds abandoned to me, with security on automatic. Well, which way should we go?” Canary looked up and down the corridor and then stiffened as a scary thought occurred to her. “Hey! What if the boom tube had dropped us into a wall?”
Rexford’s voice was pained. “Gina, Theresa and I built this thing, not Doctor Boom or Fabricator,” he said, referring to two of their foes in the Legion of Doom. “Have a little faith, eh, boss?”
“Computers are probably that way,” Star Lass said, pointing. They started moving in that direction.
Gina was still worried; it was what she did, after all. “Boy genius, why can’t we see the lasers?”
“We’re in the future. The beam we would see hasn’t been fired yet.”
Canary was confused. “So, how can we see at all?”
“I’m not totally sure.” Now he sounded frustrated. “I think it’s due to Heisenberg quantum uncertainty. You know that photons aren’t really particles, right?” Canary shrugged, and Rex continued.
“They are sort of a bundle of energy which exists not at a single point but in a probability locus, sort of like a cloudy sphere. The closer to the center of the sphere, the higher the probability the photon will be there. I think the probability locus extends into time as well as space. For any photon there is a small probability that it will be in the past or the future.”
Theresa had an awed expression on her face. “Wow, Rex — that’s amazing! And it’s dim in here because the probability that any photon will manage to get a whole femptosecond into the future is pretty small — but there are a lot of photons back in the present. So a few make it.”
Gina’s eyes were glazing over; she’d rather fight than continue this dry conversation any day. But she still didn’t understand the key issue. “Lasers shoot photons, right? Lots and lots and lots of photons. So, why can’t we see the laser beams, even dimly?”
“Well, the laser shoots coherent light. The probability locus of the photons in coherent light must be sharpened — uh… think focused — by the lasing process, so the probability of one of them appearing in the future is way lower that for unfocused photons.” He looked at Theresa questioningly.
“I’ll work out the math when we get back, but it makes sense!” She sounded eager. She actually taught this stuff at the Legion Academy.
Gina shuddered. “Great Bird of the Galaxy, I’m glad you think so. I’d rather face the Legion of Doom!”
The security system must have decided it had killed the intruders, as the alarms went silent and the lights stopped flashing. Suddenly it was dark again.
“Now what do we do?” Canary wondered. “We go back to real time, and we have to fight the security system again. Or we wander around in the dark.”
“Maybe not, boss. I brought some high-tech tools with me.” Star Lass reached into her pack and pulled out the training sphere, an emergency flare, and a roll of tape. She taped the flare to the flying sphere. “Never go anywhere without duct tape!” she laughed, then continued. “Rex, pop us back to real time for just a nano, would you?”
They felt the thunk, and the sphere flew off down the hall ahead of them. The flare ignited, and thunk, they were back in the future again. The light supplied by the flare was dim but adequate.
The rest of their visit was pretty anticlimactic. Theresa lead them to the computers, and Rex was able to use one of the control codes she provided to turn off the security system. Once he’d done that, they returned to real time and continued to explore.
Knight Base had been a work in progress when Tracy Knight and the Wanderers had abandoned it. They had finished automated maintenance for life support and security systems, but the rest had not been touched for fifty years. Electronics weren’t reliable, and everything was dusty. Still, people could survive here, and with a boom tube they could fairly easily pick up supplies if they needed to. And this base had remained hidden for almost one-hundred years despite intensive searches. Gina knew enough to make her decision. They returned to their starting point, and she gave her orders.
“This looks like the place. Plan Orange for tomorrow at four A.M. sharp in the Common Room. Rex, we won’t get a second chance.” Timepiece nodded gravely.
“Gina, we have to bring everyone. Anybody we leave behind will probably be tortured to death. And nobody’s had a chance to recruit Miqui or Drake yet.”
“Actually, Terry, I’m tempted to leave Burroughs behind; he’s a freepin foulup!” Canary saw the horrified look on Theresa’s face. “Sorry, I’m only kidding. We’ll have to drag them both with us and explain it all when we get back here. We’ll send them back if they don’t want to stay. But we have to move tomorrow; if Urbane finds out, we’re screwed!”
Satisfied, the three waited for the exact moment. The tube boomed into existence, and they flew through it back to Earth, headed inexorably for their new destiny.