Cycle

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    "This is getting ridiculous," the captain said, running his hand through his curly red hair. "You're telling me that nobody thought of this problem in advance, no one anticipated the possibility of this kind of incident, even though it will leave us stranded here?" He floated in his command lounge with only the lap belt restraining him and let the gaze of his blue eyes rest absent-mindedly on the image filling the main viewer, an image of a pair of Tyrannosaurus rex pacing ponderously around a herd of Triceratops.

    The chief engineer stood in the half crouch that comes naturally in freefall, her magnetized boots adhering to the deck. Her green-and-gold Farquest Services uniform was stained and showed small rips here and there. "It's the worst piece of stupidity I've ever seen," she said with a note of bitterness in her voice. "I don't see how it could have been overlooked. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that it was ... deliberate."

    "We'll have time to play the blame game later," the captain said. "Right now I want to discuss more practical matters. I want to know what we can do about it."

    Seen from a high angle, the Triceratops herd revealed a simple structure; cows and calves in the center with the bulls forming a bristling ring around them. One tyrannosaur came too close to the herd and a bull lunged at it. With remarkable grace, ten tonnes of theropod, larger than an elephant, seemed to dance lightly out of harm's way.

    "He needs a red cape," the captain muttered.

    "Say again?" the engineer prompted.

    "Not worth explaining," the captain said. "So, what are our options?"

    "Only one that I can see," the engineer said. "When the transfer element cracked, the pieces only pulled apart by a millimeter. It would take very little force to push them back together and they only have to make contact for a few seconds to trigger the timedrive. Obviously we can't manipulate them directly because they're made of antimatter. Their structure precludes the use of forcefields."

    "So what's left?" the captain asked, a little impatiently.

    "Inertial drift," the engineer said. "We give this grandbuoy of ours a good kick and the mass of the loose part, resisting acceleration, will push it against the secure part and hold it there long enough for us to initiate our retempation to the real present."

    "How much acceleration do you need?" the captain asked.

    "At minimum, forty-seven percent of one gee," the engineer said.

    "Four point seven meters per square second?!" the captain said. "Impossible! Our engines can't yield nearly enough thrust. You know that. They weren't meant to take us out of the Asteroid Belt under any circumstances."

    The engineer nodded. "I wasn't planning to use the thrusters," she said. "I want to use the repellers."

    "The repellers don't generate thrust," the captain protested. "They're forcefields, not rockets."

    "Untrue and true, in that order," the engineer said. "If we give them something against which to push and then expand them, they'll generate thrust."

    "Against what are they going to push?" the captain replied. "We're parked in a Kirkwood Gap precisely so we won't encounter any asteroids."

    "Yes, this proposal won't be easy to execute. And we'll need a fairly big asteroid, several kilometers in diameter. The maneuvering's going to be tricky at best."

    The captain let out a deep grumble. "Well, I'm getting no other suggestions. Give me a detailed proposal and then I'll decide."

    The engineer took from a pocket a poker-chip sized black glass disk and pushed it gently toward the captain, then she saluted and left.

    A day later the crew began to entreploy the elements of the grandbuoy's giant synthetic-aperture telescope, retracting the ponderous booms and folding the optical elements into their cushioned nesting positions within the outer shell of the asteroid-sized timeship. A constellation of spots on the ship's hull glowed as they gently pushed the craft onto an orbit that would take it toward its target.

    "We'll have to take great care," the astrogator said at one meeting. The image of their target asteroid glowed as a rough crescent in the viewscreen. "We won't be giving that puppy much delta-vee directly, but the backwash from the intertempation fields will act like the slingshot effect and amplify it up to five or six kilometers per second. That's enough delta-vee to put that rockball onto an Earth-crossing orbit. As I recall, the whole point of making our observations from the Asteroid Belt was precisely to avoid the remotest possibility of doing anything that might alter Terran history or something that might even affect the existence of Humanity."

    "That's a good point," the captain said.

    "A point worth considering in detail," the engineer agreed. "If that asteroid were to hit Earth, the effects would devastate life, cause mass extinctions."

    "You know," the chief paleontologist said, "we're currently tempated not long before the Great Extinction that ended the Age of The Dinosaurs. Do you suppose we're meant to be the cause?"

    "Hmmm," the captain mused. "You noted that this situation seemed ... deliberate," he said to the engineer. "Perhaps deliberate but not in a human sense? Perhaps fated as a test?"

    "Then what should we do?" the astrogator asked.

    "What was the first thought you considered?" the captain asked in response.

    "Pushing the asteroid in the retrograde direction," the astrogator said. "It is the simplest maneuver and was so described in the engineer's proposal."

    "Then do it so," the captain said.

    Some days later the timeship drifted up to the prograde side of the chosen, six-kilometer-wide asteroid and paused. Suddenly the asteroid seemed to fall away from the timeship at high speed and several seconds later the timeship blurred and vanished.

    Its orbit given a new, lower perihelion by the loss of orbital speed, the asteroid spent tens of thousands of years looping through the inner solar system, crossing Earth's orbit twice on each revolution. Once it passed close to Earth's prograde side in an encounter that lowered its perihelion further. Some millenia later it scored a direct hit on Venus.

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    "This is getting ridiculous," the captain said, distending his dewlap. "You're telling me that nobody thought of this problem in advance, no one anticipated the possibility of this kind of incident, even though it will leave us stranded here?" He floated in his command cradle with only the shoulder forks restraining him and let the gaze of his yellow, slit-pupiled eyes rest absent-mindedly on the image filling the main viewer, an image of a pair of Tyrannosaurus rex pacing ponderously around a herd of Triceratops.

    The chief engineer stood in the half crouch that comes naturally in freefall, the claws of her bare feet gripping the thickwire grills that defined the deck. Her gray-and-red Farquest Services uniform was stained and showed small rips here and there. "It's the worst piece of stupidity I've ever seen," she said with a note of bitterness in her voice. "I don't see how it could have been overlooked. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that it was ... deliberate."

    "We'll have time to play the blame game later," the captain said. "Right now I want to discuss more practical matters. I want to know what we can do about it."

    Seen from a high angle, the Triceratops herd revealed a simple structure; cows and calves in the center with the bulls forming a bristling ring around them. One tyrannosaur came too close to the herd and a bull lunged at it. With remarkable grace, ten tonnes of theropod, larger than an behemodont, seemed to dance lightly out of harm's way.

    "He needs a Moa-feather fan," the captain muttered.

    "Say again?" the engineer prompted.

    "Not worth explaining," the captain said. "So, what are our options?"

    "Only one that I can see," the engineer said. "When the transfer element cracked, the pieces only pulled apart by a millimeter. It would take very little force to push them back together and they only have to make contact for a few seconds to trigger the timedrive. Obviously we can't manipulate them directly because they're made of antimatter. Their structure precludes the use of forcefields."

    "So what's left?" the captain asked, a little impatiently.

    "Inertial drift," the engineer said. "We give this grandbuoy of ours a good kick and the mass of the loose part, resisting acceleration, will push it against the secure part and hold it there long enough for us to initiate our retempation to the real present."

    "How much acceleration do you need?" the captain asked.

    "At minimum, forty-seven percent of one gee," the engineer said.

    "Four point seven meters per square second?!" the captain said. "Impossible! Our engines can't yield nearly enough thrust. You know that. They weren't meant to take us out of the Asteroid Belt under any circumstances."

    The engineer trilled her syrinx. "I wasn't planning to use the thrusters," she said. "I want to use the repellers."

    "The repellers don't generate thrust," the captain protested. "They're forcefields, not rockets."

    "Untrue and true, in that order," the engineer said. "If we give them something against which to push and then expand them, they'll generate thrust."

    "Against what are they going to push?" the captain replied. "We're parked in a Gravidance Breach precisely so we won't encounter any asteroids."

    "Yes, this proposal won't be easy to execute. And we'll need a fairly big asteroid, several kilometers in diameter. The maneuvering's going to be tricky at best."

    The captain let out a low honk. "Well, I'm getting no other suggestions. Give me a detailed proposal and then I'll decide."

    The engineer took from a pocket a thumb-sized black glass egg and pushed it gently toward the captain, then she saluted and left.

    A day later the crew began to entreploy the elements of the grandbuoy's giant synthetic-aperture telescope, retracting the ponderous booms and folding the optical elements into their cushioned nesting positions within the outer shell of the asteroid-sized timeship. A constellation of spots on the ship's hull glowed as they gently pushed the craft onto an orbit that would take it toward its target.

    "We'll have to take great care," the astrogator said at one meeting. The image of their target asteroid glowed as a rough crescent in the viewscreen. "We won't be giving that birdie much delta-vee directly, but the backwash from the intertempation fields will act like the slingshot effect and amplify it up to five or six kilometers per second. That's enough delta-vee to put that rockball onto an Earth-crossing orbit. As I recall, the whole point of making our observations from the Asteroid Belt was precisely to avoid the remotest possibility of doing anything that might alter Terran history or something that might even affect the existence of Dragonkind."

    "That's a good point," the captain said.

    "A point worth considering in detail," the engineer agreed. "If that asteroid were to hit Earth, the effects would devastate life, cause mass extinctions."

    "You know," the chief paleontologist said, "we're currently tempated in the middle of one of the longest eras of biological stability in Earth's history, the era whence our ancestors began the long, slow climb to sentience. Do you suppose we're meant to be a threat?"

    "Hsss," the captain mused. "You noted that this situation seemed ... deliberate," he said to the engineer. "Perhaps deliberate but not in a hypersaurian sense? Perhaps fated as a test?"

    "Then what should we do?" the astrogator asked.

    "What was the first thought you considered?" the captain asked in response.

    "Pushing the asteroid in the retrograde direction," the astrogator said. "It is the simplest maneuver and was so described in the engineer's proposal."

    "Then do the opposite," the captain said.

    Some days later the timeship drifted up to the retrograde side of the chosen, six-kilometer-wide asteroid and paused. Suddenly the asteroid seemed to fall away from the timeship at high speed and several seconds later the timeship blurred and vanished.

    Its orbit given a new, higher aphelion by the gain of orbital speed, the asteroid spent tens of thousands of years looping into the outer solar system, crossing Jupiter's orbit twice on each revolution. Once it passed close to Jupiter's prograde side in an encounter that lowered its perihelion deep into the inner solar system. Some millenia later it scored a direct hit on Earth.

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    "This is getting ridiculous," the captain said, running his hand through his curly red hair....

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