Monday, August 11, 2014

02. Late Night in the Workroom

Entry 02: In which Felix has many problems and little rest.

                Felix forgot about dinner. He forgot to eat at all in fact and didn't realize it until two in the morning, well into the ship's sleep cycle.
                He ran a hand through his hair and sighed explosively, sending loose papers skittering across the battered surface of his work table. He'd been sitting here since he'd left Cor in the engine room, trying once again to make his impossible, brilliant equation work.
                The idea itself was a pretty simple, pretty neat if you asked him, that instead of using sub light engines or even hyperspace to travel vast distances in shorter amounts of time, you just shut physical space up like an accordion and traveled the same distance in a few short steps. It would be the first form of space travel that wasn't based on the speed of light and, if you asked him, it was completely brilliant.
                The problem was that he couldn't make the equation that proved it would work balance.
                Most people that heard his simple, brilliant idea laughed at him of course. And they only laughed harder when he told them he'd gotten the idea from Douglas Adam's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
                "Don't know why they think it can't be done." Felix thought as he slouched over the table and stared at numbers, so exhausted he was starting to just will them to make sense. "Course it can be done. Know it can be done. Just...can't do it."
                He sighed again and leaned his head in his hands, elbows propped up on the table so he didn't fall over altogether. He stared at the garble of numbers another few minutes.
                "Don't know why they call it an improbability drive either." He mumbled, mind losing focus the longer he stared. "S'not an improbability drive. Improbability drive really can't be done. Can't build one. Won't work. That and the copyright laws would be a pain."
                Felix snorted a laugh, the small motion threatening to toss him out of his chair altogether. He caught himself before he slid to the floor though and steadied himself by holding the edge of his worktable.
                He blinked, shaken awake by the near fall. He shook his head to clear it further, sending the goggles he'd pushed up on his head sliding down so that they sat cockeyed over his nose.
                With a muttered growl he yanked them from around his neck and threw them on the table. It was already covered in so much scrap that it really didn't matter where he put them. Papers covered in Felix's slanted scrawl papered the rectangular table along with blueprints for practical models he was no longer allowed to build after the incident in the mess hall a couple of months ago. Torn scraps of paper holding old designs that had been re-worked and scrapped and re-worked again lay here and there on the scarred, wooden surface.
                They sat next to napkins covered with mathematical equations that left him with more questions than solutions. Cups and ceramic mugs he’d borrowed from the mess hall and never returned were clustered at the corners where he’d shoved them, half built prototypes hiding between the forest of handles. Most of the cups still held old coffee that was now covered with milky layers of skim that floated on top and shifted as Felix scrubbed away a flawed section of the equation from the book he'd shoved near his elbow.
                It was an old fashioned, leather bound codex with blank pages, uncommon in his modern day and age. Felix had only filled in the first third so far – most of the pages crinkled and coffee stained at the edges – but tonight he’d opened the book to a blank page for a fresh start on an old problem. Even the cover — made of stiff brown leather — had a long crease cutting diagonal down its front from when the young engineer had bent it in his hurry to get somewhere weeks before.
                One of the legs of the table was shorter than the other and it wobbled and squeaked as he scrubbed away what he'd written an hour before, but the table still served its purpose so Felix never bothered to get a new one. He probably wouldn't until the ancient thing cracked right down the middle.
                Only faint lines were left of the flawed numbers now. Felix brushed aside the eraser shavings before hastily scribbling a new set over the old ones. This was his fifth notebook — the rest he’d filled in with numbers and then some over the years — but they all held the same thing. The same impossible, brilliant idea he’d been obsessed with ever since he’d been a teenager. The same idea he was no closer to achieving than he’d been four leather notebooks ago.
                Felix stared at the new numbers with a frightening intensity. His mind was racing. Yes, yes, it would work now. He just knew-
                He expelled a sudden sigh and threw himself back in his chair with enough force that it threatened to dump him to the floor again. He slouched, exhausted in the worn seat, elbows draped over the armrests at odd angles. Pulling in a deep breath, Felix closed his aching eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, hoping to relieve the pressure he felt building in his skull.
                “Except it won’t work,” he mumbled to himself, “Signo’s Theorem spells that out clearly.”
                Felix sighed again, bone tired but unwilling to move from his desk even now.
                The young engineer opened his eyes, the low light in the cluttered room making them burn. For a long minute he just stared at his work surface without really seeing it. Twelve years. That’s how long he’d been working on this single problem. Twelve. Years.
                And at this rate it would be twelve more years before he made any headway. Instantaneous travel had been a fascination of the human race for centuries now, probably ever since they had unlocked the power of coal and steam. And like the hyperdrive and sub-light travel for the masses, it had existed solely in the realm of science fiction for decades.
                Hard science had caught up since then, obviously. The Helix 7 herself was powered by a Maximus 4 – a staple engine for a ship this size made by the Red Star Company – and had a model 6 hyperdrive from Earth’s own Stellar Enterprises. But despite all the researchers working on instantaneous travel, not to mention what Felix was sure was an obscene amount of money spent on R&D departments, no one had been able to crack the code. Even the various species out there like the Hybridians — made of equal parts blood and oil and the most mechanically minded race of beings Felix had ever met — were unable to devise a way that would shorten the distance between two places into the length of a single step. As far as Felix knew he was the only one to come even this close, but now even he was stumped.
                "Have to remember to shape the effect into a cone ending in point B otherwise you'll drag your surroundings with you to the new location." Felix mumbled, pinching the bridge of his nose and squeezing his eyes shut to try and alleviate the pressure building up behind them. "And space is always expanding so have to take that into account..."
                Felix shook his head, greasy lanks of unwashed hair falling in front of his eyes. " It's nothing I haven't already planned for. I need to stop giving myself busy work or I'll never finish."
                He knew he couldn't be the only one working on a theory like this – one that would eventually lead to a machine that would become just as standard as the hyper drive – and usually that knowledge spurred him on. But tonight, with weariness weighing down on him and doubt wearing chinks in his armor, the thought only depressed him.
                "Someone else will get there first." He thought, face falling as he stared at all his work. "Probably that super-scientist Davis Redford." He snorted and in his sleep deprived state picked up a leftover mug and swallowed down two week old coffee.
                He spit it out on principle, spewing dark brown liquid across his papers. He made a face at the mess and with a muttered curse set the cup down behind the others and started brushing off molding coffee before it stained too much.
                "Buckethead." He borrowed Cor's favorite insult. "Nice going. Like you don't have enough problems."
                He picked up a napkin with an outdated equation written on it and used it to mop up the rest of the coffee puddles. When he'd gotten most of it, he wadded it up and tossed it into one of the coffee cups for safekeeping.
                Felix leaned back in his chair with a stifled groan, his spine aching from being bent for so many long hours. He tilted his head back against the top of his chair and stared at the dark ceiling for a long moment in silence.
                "Should probably just stop trying." He told himself. "Already spent the last twelve years of my life trying to get it right. That's almost half my life. Half my life...wasted."
                It was a bitter thought. One he wasn't able to stomach.
                He leaned forward, swallowing down another groan as he turned to the previous page in his leather book. He stared at the numbers and notes he'd already memorized, but they offered no new insights.
                His forehead met the table with a thunk.
                "Just go to bed you moron." He muttered to himself. "Go to bed and give up on this whole ridiculous idea. So what if I've made more progress than all of Stellar Enterprises and Red Star's scientists put together? So what if that bolts-for-brains Redford gets all the credit in the history books? Let him! You've already spent over a decade obsessing over this stupid idea. If you haven't found the answer by now you're not ever going to find it. Will it really take you another twelve years before you finally see you're going nowhere?"
                Felix squeezed his eyes shut, internals twisting at the thought he might have wasted literally half of his life on a dead end.
                But he was just so close…
                With a weary sigh, Felix lifted his head from the table. "Buckethead." He muttered again.
                Then he hunched back over his work book, head bowed so low his nose was only an inch off the paper surface. He thought for a moment, pencil spinning between his two fingers, before he began to scribble more numbers across the page.
                Apparently the last twelve years had taught him nothing after all.

< Entry 1                                                                                                                                                   Entry 3 >

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