Chapter Fourteen

"They'll survive."

Xara turned from the viewport and looked plainly at the admiral. From this very spot, the man was pouring a light alcholic drink for her -- the Tio Cory had discovered. To think she'd threatened to kill him. She was very grateful it was only a threat, and that at the time he'd seen it as an empty threat.

She said nothing. His two words, spoken so casually, were surprising -- but she'd seen enough surprises from the Colonies that she didn't let it faze her anymore. She was just glad the Arions were gone -- and gone for good this time. Obstensibly, Xara was in the admiral's company to protect him from a certain Scribe he'd upset, twice. In reality, he thought she should know first, privately, what had happened yesterday.

So, Xara accepted the mug from him (the Colonies had never made wine glasses for themselves) and let the admiral speak. He was remarkably detached from his emotions; an air of calm frankness radiated from him. As they settled into a couple lounge chairs in his cabin, he opened up.

The admiral chuckled. "All these years, we've dreamed of having our revenge, our freedom. And now that we've had it... I don't know what to do."

Xara knew. She raised her glass towards him, and said, "To old soldiers... Homo Sapiens or Homo Supremis. They have fought the good fight, and now they may rest." Yevgeni raised his glass in reply, and they sipped at their drinks again. Then Xara asked, "What do you mean, they'll survive? Without a star they've got no source of outside heat to keep the plants growing. They're going to be hungry. Not to mention every gas and liquid on the planet -- atmosphere included -- freezing solid. How can they survive with no sun?"

"They have a sun. Inside each one of them."

"I don't understand."

Yevgeni stood up and slowly started to pace. "Where do you think your own power comes from, Xara? Oh, I don't mean your flying or your strength or anything like that -- I mean, what gives you the energy to do those things? It's not from what you eat; your diet hardly differs from ours. Maybe pasta instead of bread, but still, ordinary carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen. That can't really power you to do what you do, can it?"

Xara shook her head. No, it couldn't. "I was born with it."

"Yes, you were, but you never really understood it. It's not unusual -- how many humans know where their spleen is? I don't. But it is inside you. Two hundred years ago, mankind discovered that the microfusion process -- the same one that drives our ships -- drives you, and all the other Supremis past puberty. You don't need to eat, you don't need to sleep, and while you've retained a human form, you're not even close to human anymore. Except up here," and he tapped his forehead.

Xara vaguely remembered her mom and Gel'tri telling about this decades ago, not long after Gel'tri and the others had landed on Earth. They'd had to rescue a kidnapped colleague.

He went on, ignoring the drink in his hand. "Which begs the question, where does microfusion come from?" Instead of answering that, he asked, "How do Sharon or Co'ra'na make a jump?"

Xara was puzzled by that. "They fly straight into a black hole, a singularity, and come out of another one."

Yevgeni shook his head. "No, not quite. Not even they could survive passing through the event horizon of a black hole; they couldn't get that close before the tides ripped them apart." He was pleased that Xara pondered this, that he didn't have to explain the differences in gravity to her. It was a basic lesson that he thought she might've missed. "One time, a Colony quietly observed a Velorian diving into a black hole for her jump. Before she got too deep -- just before she would've been torn apart -- she disappeared. Completely off our sensors. That got our attention. We also picked up a faint wobble in our microfusion power plants -- as if suddenly a wave of increased power, very slight, passed through the ship. Only our chronometers caught that it didn't happen all at once. When we analyzed it, the wave passed from the point closest to the missing Vel outward..."

"As for the ship itself, her own microfusion plants were running a good fifteen percent above normal. We didn't know why then. But as she maneuvered around the black hole herself, her own proximity to the hole's center varied in proportion to the power levels of the plant. The closer we got to the hole, the more power our plants generated. From our predictions, we guess that microfusion actually opens a path to some parallel or higher dimension -- we're not sure, and we can't prove it -- where black holes dump a lot of energy. A lot. We're guessing that some of the mass at the very center of the singularity -- where it's much smaller than an atom anyway -- is getting squeezed through to this other dimension and converted to energy, Einstein-style. Not much, compared to the overall mass of the hole, but enough to account for a slight discrepancy between Dr. Stephen Hawking's theories on singularity evaporation and actual observations we've made."

"Singularity evaporation?" Xara asked.

"Something rather obscure. Dr. Hawking said it best in one of his books. Black holes aren't so black."


Yevgeni continued. "Atomic bombs and nuclear reactors work because a very tiny amount of mass converts to a very large amount of energy. Same principle, only with the center of a singularity, and a hell of a lot more mass. It basically fills the universe -- in this other dimension, mind you -- with more energy than in our own dimension. That energy is always trying to flow where there's less energy. When we try to fuse something in a space smaller than it can fuse in -- two deuterium atoms into a helium atom, for example -- it opens a crack to this other dimension, and the energy starts to flow. That's what drives our ships, and it's what drives you."

"How do you know all this?" Xara asked.

Yevgeni laughed. "I used to be an engineer. Not a very good one, but I understood the basics. Then I started teaching it. This was oh, ten years ago."

Yevgeni sipped again from his drink. "This energy is everywhere -- just beyond our grasp, really, but everywhere, even in the intergalactic void. The Arions -- whose cell structure is almost identical to Velorian, and thus yours -- draw on it. That's how they'll survive."

Xara asked, "What about the jumps?"

Yevgeni smiled and sat down again. "That much, our scientists have at best a guess. They think that in the presence of gravity, even the energy of microfusion reacts. Around a black hole it's much simpler -- gravity bends spacetime much more, and the energy floods in -- but we can jump anywhere from one solar system to another. It just takes a lot more power. The jumps work, we believe, because we can briefly warp spacetime by concentrating enough microfusion energy in a specific region, and in a particular shape. Incidentally, the speed of light is at least four orders of magnitude higher in the other realm than it is here; we can't quite figure out how high it is, but it's high. The energy moves so fast, permeating the region, that when we squeeze it in just such a way, we go along for the ride on a wave of microfusion, we think. We're not sure if it happens in our dimension, in the other, or in some happy medium, but it does work. According to the theory, the jump doesn't take zero time, but it takes place in such a short span that it might as well be zero time. Planck time is far too long."

"That doesn't quite make sense. It sounds like technobabble," Xara complained.

The admiral shrugged. "To me, it is -- but try getting another engineer to explain it in English, and that's what you get, a hundredfold. I had to teach this stuff to elementary school kids. It was discovered about 150 years ago -- well before the Fourth World War. The Americans just never got around to really using it, as mired in economic and political drama on the planet as they were. The spacetime warp can enclose a region of space, not just matter -- and that's how we move rocks and planets. For the larger objects, it usually takes a team effort, and absolute synchronization when you establish the warp, right down to the millimeter and about a third of a picosecond. The borders of each field have to touch that exactly, or it doesn't form. Those are never easy -- and moving Aria that far took a lot of power, power levels we spent several days ramping the microfusion reactors up to. For all that, it barely affected the other dimension where this power comes from. We're lucky we didn't lose one of our colonies to an uncontrolled explosion; it might've sent a shock wave rumbling past a star by now."

Xara started to understand. "Free energy, as much of it as you want, literally free and provided by the stars themselves. A taste of heaven."

"You could say that."

"And the Arions can live on this, in the deepest of space?"

"Most of them. Those who haven't had the process ignited yet, those who haven't reached puberty..."

Xara blinked. "Oh. And the humans, the descendents of the slaves?"

Yevgeni's voice turned much more somber. "It is for them that I'm drinking tonight. Probably by now most of them have frozen to death, and there's nothing I can do for them." Abruptly, he snapped the rest of his drink back, hard, and gasped. "But I think the Arions will find a way to convert the energy from their own bodies to heat, to keep cities warm. It's the only way they'll have children that grow up again, the only way their species will continue beyond its present generation."

Xara thought about that. "Velorians and Arions generate a lot of heat in the lovemaking process -- particularly if the mother doesn't hold... well..."

Yevgeni nodded. "Yes, Earth recently saw a taste of that, I'm sorry to say, but that might be an answer for them. I don't know, and frankly I don't care anymore. The Arions are not Earth's problem any longer."

Xara asked him one question that had been nagging her for a while. "What if the Arions themselves develop microfusion?"

"They can't. At least, I seriously doubt it's possible for them to live through it."

"What do you mean?"

"We've never let a Velorian or an Arion into our reactor spaces. There's a reason for that. Close exposure to the raw effect is dangerous to you. That's why microfusion bombs have been so effective in our arsenal. The raw power, not coming from inside your cells, but from outside, is fatal in anything but the most miniscule concentrations. You could survive briefly, even thrive, in a low-intensity -- meaning a standby or minimal power field -- but if we executed a jump with you in the engine room, you'd be dead before you knew what happened."

"Cory did feel odd when you jumped to that asteroid a few weeks ago..."

"Residual from the microfusion effect. You don't want to get too close... and I guarantee the Arions don't either. If they ever do figure it out, they'll kill themselves doing so, I suspect."

"Humans built nuclear reactors whose cores they stayed away from for decades."

With a nod, he conceded that. "It's even possible that Aria itself is already powered by microfusion reactors... but not very damned likely. This effect goes through walls like tachyons. The first time they put a crew on a ship for a jump, their engineers will end up dead. Besides, they don't know where they are. Finding their way back here will probably take them centuries, if they ever try it. By then, they'll probably have forgotten us and relegated us to legend. We'll have done the same about them, and by the time we make contact with them again, if that ever happens, it will be a new contact, with this and our other conflicts with them archaeology. I hope." Yevgeni didn't mention time travel to her -- that was still a possibility which a couple Colony ships over the years had successfully attempted, but by and large the Colonies shied away from that practice.

Xara shook her head. "Microfusion: the beginning of a Supremis, the end of a Supremis society."

Yevgeni's lip curved upward. "Getting all poetic on us now, Xara? That's almost like that one small step line..."

"Well, I've had a couple centuries to mature."

The admiral nodded. Of course. Then again, it could be the Tio sinking in... He changed the subject. "Well, we'll decide next week whether we want to stay military colonies or start returning to Earth. We might even take up commercial trade, for all I know. Probably all three, I think. But there are some people downplanet unhappy with us; we did violate the U.N. Charter again with our microfusion bombs. They've pardoned us, but hard feelings are still abundant." He sighed. "With the bombings that were forced on us, we might still be exiles. I hadn't considered that, but now we have to. We got what we wanted, but it's the most Pyhrric victory I can imagine. We might not be able to go home, really go home, for another one hundred twenty years..." The admiral finished his drink.

Then a thought occured to him. "Xara, how would you like to take a vacation?"