The Danger Zone, Part III

Continued from Part II.  Start at the beginning.

The discovery of subspace began, as so many great breakthroughs do, with a tragedy.  At the end of the twenty-first century, with space exploration experiencing a massive resurgence in popularity, research teams around the world, both public and private, were racing to develop the next generation of zero-atmosphere engines for interplanetary flight.  Most of the public institutions were pursuing more reasonable upgrades to current rockets, such as reusable, refillable booster stages, lighter and more compact fuel, and more efficient shuttle designs.  The private research groups, however, were free to chase down stranger long shots – which may partly explain why, on one sunny morning, a research complex in Massachusetts exploded in a blast that radiated out for twenty miles and turned the ground to molten glass.

This tragedy attracted widespread media attention, of course, but Actinide, the company that had been funding the research facility, managed to remain stubbornly close-mouthed and avoid detailing too much information in the investigative probes from government review boards.  Less than five years later, they announced that they had discovered a new method of travel, crossing thousands of miles in mere minutes by traversing across an alternate dimension.

Actinide didn’t file any patents, and over the next few years the company managed to keep the details of its discovery fairly secret through a combination of corporate counter-espionage, bribes, and the occasional rumored industrial sabotage of a rival that was getting too close to developing their own version of subspace travel.  Scientists made fruitless complaints about the poor research environment, other shipping companies went bankrupt, and Actinide quickly gained a near-monopoly in the interplanetary shipping market.  Yet somehow, they still seemed plagued by delays and issues with their subspace systems.

This is where I came in.  Sure, I was a pure-hearted academic on the inside, but I knew the advantage of good marketing, and sold myself to Actinide as an expert who might be able to help streamline their process.  I had suspected for a long time that they had issues, and their request for me to accompany a cargo shipment proved my suspicions correct.

My credentials weren’t falsified, of course; aside from the researchers working behind gag orders for Actinide itself, I probably knew more about subspace than anyone else.  The principles were remarkably similar to something out of a science fiction tale; gates at fixed locations used very high pulses of energy to form a temporary tunnel through the fabric of reality, creating an entrance and exit.  The convoy would travel through subspace between these two portal points; rough data suggested that a meter in subspace corresponded to approximately 4 kilometers in our dimension.

It had taken several seconds as the crackling of stray bolts of energy grounding themselves around the portal intensified, but I could now see that the giant ring was filled with a shimmering haze.  I could hear a faint crackling noise radiating out from the portal, like the noise around a bug zapper on a warm June night.  A loud buzzer sounded, and with a jerk, the vehicles dropped into gear and began rolling forward.  I stared over the shoulders of the bulky men in the front seat, watching with wide eyes as the Humvee in front of us vanished into that haze, growing obscured as though entering thick fog.  We were close behind, nearly bumper to bumper, and I tried not to hold my breath as we passed through the portal.

I had been expecting some sort of sensation, some sort of tingling or prickling, but I felt nothing.  Kurt, sitting next to me, poked me with an elbow.  “On guard,” he growled.  “We’re in it now.  No relaxing until we’re through.”

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