INT – DAY – Star-liner dining room
Most of the food has been eaten, people chatting at their tables, except Liner Engineer, who sits tiredly in his seat being ignored, and ignoring most of his food.
A man, LAG (wearing a conservative Edwardian-esque dark suit with brass buttons, a high collar shirt, jacket, and vest; looks like a well-to-do business man; short-cropped hair, no whiskers; late 40s; broad shoulders and powerfully built) approaches the table.
Lag: (indicating a chair between the Doc’s wife and Bipasha, across from Liner Engineer) Is this taken?
Chorus from the table: variations of Oh, not at all / please by my guest / have a seat / welcome
Lag: Ah, thank you. Sorry I’m late. Always more details. (half to himself as he picks up the menu) Hmmm, what are the choices?
Everyone else goes back to their conversations while Lag pics looks over the menu reader, makes a couple of rapid selections, and sets it down. He then turns to Bipasha and is about to say something when the ships announcement system chimes, and the familiar calm female voice says:
Announcer: (OC) All passengers, may I have your attention, please. All passengers… Navigation has informed the Captain that due to a change in the regional subspace conditions and news, our schedule will be somewhat altered-
There is a collective groan from the around the dining room, and the passengers listen attentively and exchange looks.
Announcer: (OC) We should still arrive in Niven on the scheduled date. We will be detouring through a swirl headed our way, stop briefly at a transfer station point outside of Eldari to exchange passengers, then continue to Balltic and Niven. Ship time will be approximately five days, universal time about 32 hours plus a short time at Eldari to transfer passengers and cargo. We will be arriving at the Eldari transfer point in about 40 hours. That is all.
The dining room erupts in murmurs of excitement, confusion, and relief, depending on the person.
Senator: (to the table) I don’t understand; we’ll be on the ship for five days, but we will arrive at Niven in only 32 hours? And we won’t get to the transfer for forty hours? That doesn’t make any sense.
Lucretia Trask: Yes, that’s impossible – how can we get there before leave?
Helton: No, we will not.
Liner Engineer look acutely at Helton, wondering what he will say next. The others at the table look at Helton, both in wonder that this obviously inferior man would correct such a respectable older lady, and wondering what he’d say next.
Helton: The details of FTL are complicated of course, but the basic idea isn’t. Universal time, how time passes in the conventional universe where we usually live, passes as a pretty constant rate everywhere. According to the clocks on Niven and where we just left, we’ll arrive in system in 32 hours. But, time moves differently in subspace, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but always forward, depending on a lot of things – what kind of drives you have, what sort of gravity wells you pass, which way subspace is blowing, and-
Doc Wife: Subspace blows?
Helton re-arranges the stuff on the table a bit, clearing out things from the centerpiece, putting a carafe at one end and a bauble from the centerpiece near the other. While he’s doing this, he’s talking.
Helton: Yes. There are 22 dimensions, as you may have heard. Three in space that we can normally perceive, plus time. The physics are similar, but different, in the other dimensions, and by transitioning into them we can do things like go faster than light can here in our universe. But, just like the space bends and solar winds blow here, things are neither smooth nor static in the other dimension. It’s kind of like wind. A little bit of wind and you can walk or fly normally and mostly ignore it. If there is a strong tail-wind blowing, you get there faster, if you are bucking a strong head-wind it takes longer, but the distance is the same. If a hurricane is passing through, then you can’t go anywhere –
Bipasha: -ah, the “the Deep Black”-
Helton: -yes, THAT is where the subspace is simply much to turbulent to transition into and fly.
The others look at him with a mix of curiosity and incomprehension on their faces.
Helton: Pretend this (indicates the centerpiece on the table) is an island. That (pointing to the bauble) is your ship, and that (points to carafe) is your destination. In a light tail-wind blowing from you (points to the Flight Engineer on the end), the ship could sail down either side of the island at the same speed, but going back would be slower. But if a strong wind were blowing from you (points to another) at an angle across the island, then sailing on that side would be fast, but the other side would be slow and difficult because of all the wind eddies and swirls there. If a hurricane comes through, then no-one sails anywhere, they just hide in the harbors and hope for the best (he puts the bauble in among the details of the centerpiece), which is what happened when Eta Carinea blew – the dark came in because sub-space was un-navigable. The local effects of the stars and planets swamped it close in, so A-grav and accela-comps worked, but not FTL. It sounds like right now we’ll be able to catch a wind that blows us, very quickly, past you (he tosses the bauble to Bipasha) then to you (indicates she should toss it to the Penger Trask, which she does) then on to Niven (it gets tossed to the flight Engineer). Because we are going further in subspace it’ll take longer ship-time, but Niven hasn’t moved, so our real time hasn’t changed much.
Lucretia Trask: OK, I guess that sort of makes sense…
Helton: Like I said, the details are complicated, and if you are not interested in math and physics it’ll make your head hurt, but just remember time always goes forward, just at different rates depending on your path. Kind of like how time seems to go fast when you are having fun, and seems to drag when you are bored. Sometimes weird things happen, like being able to go a lot further, a lot faster in universal time, but it’ll take much longer ship time, while using less fuel. Just imagine different weather and winds and currents and islands and mountains with the sailing ship, and it’ll be easier to visualize, even if it’s not entirely accurate.
Lag: One of the better descriptions I’ve heard.
Helton: Thanks. I’ve had to explain it more than few times.
Ship Engineer: Oh?
Helton: I’m a teacher, and between classes and a passel of nephews and nieces-
There is a sudden burst of cheering and laughing from a table at the far side of the room, where a group if young men and women (mid-teens to early 20s) seem to be having a VERY good time.
Doc Wife and a couple of the others glare at them – it seems it not the first time there was an outburst from them.
Doc Wife: I wonder where there parents are? Children without manners should not be abandon in public like that.
Lag: (sighing) No rest for the wicked. Excuse me, please.
Surprised looks on their faces, the rest of the table watches him stand up with a glass in his hand and head for the other table.
cut to –