Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Free story idea – Star Jumping

I have a lot of ideas for stories.  Like, if I wrote a novel’s worth of them every month, I’d still most likely die before getting through them all.  I will admit that some of the ideas probably suck, but I think there are some that a good writer could make something of them.  I’ll just never get a chance to.  So, I give them to the world.  If you can make something of these, go right ahead.  And if these are the ideas I’m giving away, maybe check out the ones I keep.

Here in the real world, you can’t accelerate a mass up to the speed of light.  The closer you get to the speed of light, the more energy you need, and it quickly becomes outrageous.  Thanks Einstein.  But what if you could … negate the mass, or cover it up somehow?  That’s a key element in this story.  I don’t know exactly how it would work – you would need to come up with the basics at least for this made-up physics – but the idea is you build a ship with some device that creates a bubble, or field around the ship.  This makes the ship nearly massless for the tiniest split of a second.  During this time, you fire a laser pulse at the ship.  Now, one of the whacky bits of Relativity is that time – to an outside observer – runs “slow” for things moving near light speed.  So this ship – while nearly massless – when hit by the laser pulse, would fly off at near light speed.  The tiniest split second later, as viewed by the ship, the bubble or whatever would collapse and the ship would regain its mass and screech to a halt.  Hopefully slow enough so that the passenger isn’t smeared into a red paste along the backwall.  To the passenger, it would seem they traveled lightyears in less than a second.  But to an observer back at the laser, years may have passed.  The laser would fire, then eight years later you’d get the message from the ship that they traveled four light years: four years for the outward journey and four years for the message to come back.  I’m sure physics people are banging their heads wanting to explain why all of that is wrong.  As if warp drives and lightspeed engines make any sense.

Anyway, this story follows a star jump test program.  The first issue is how long do you set this bubble or whatever to exist, and how do you fire the laser pulse at the right time.  So basically, you build a robotic probe, call it Interstellar A, and it turns on the bubble, you fire the laser, and two years later you get the message that it traveled one lightyear.  So you do a few more test runs with probes Interstellar B through F to fine tune things, over a couple decades. 

But now they’re ready to send the first human to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri.  The plan is once the Interstellar G mission – with an astronaut and the human-level AI that runs the ship – arrive at Proxima Centauri, they’ll set up a robotic miner on some asteroid.  Over a year or so, it will mine needed materials to build a laser system.  It will also mine materials to build a shield for the craft because space is only nearly empty.  Hitting a dust grain while traveling near the speed of light would cause some damage, so the shield the craft had when it left Earth is very damaged and needs to be replaced.

While all that is happening, the astronaut will explore the system.  The ship isn’t designed to land, so it can only orbit any planet and drop probes.  Some of these probes will return with samples, either just rock samples or maybe some lifeforms, if there are any.  Once the laser is built, the plan is for the astronaut to use it to come back to our solar system with their samples.

I image the story will be beautiful descriptions of alien planets along with long conversations between the human and the AI on the meaning of life, and exploration, and whatever to pass the time.  Along the way, the human will point out that they really don’t want to go back to Earth, they’d much rather keep exploring.  I forget who it was, but I read years ago there was some American pioneer who if they could see smoke from somebody’s cabin, it meant they were too close to civilization and they had to move further west.  This astronaut – with their AI companion – would rather just keep exploring further and further out into the galaxy. 

Fortunately, Interstellar F finally shows up.  While this probe was launched sooner, it wasn’t fine-tuned enough and so only made it 99.9999% of the way to Proxima Centauri.  But, it then fired up its engine and over however many years finally inched its way to the system.  So they load Interstellar F up with the samples, give it a new shield, and fire it back to Earth.  They then build another shield for Interstellar G, and fire it off to the next nearest star system.  They don’t use it to go to the main Alpha Centauri system, because there’s probably already a mission on its way there.  Not to mention, Proxima Centauri will probably soon be crawling with scientists who will also take the short jump to Alpha Centauri.  And our main characters would rather be elsewhere.

They don’t plan to disappear.  At each new star system, they’ll mine resources to build a new laser system to move on, but which later explorers can also use.  They also stockpile samples, and materials for shields.  They also write detailed reports on all they find and beam them back to Earth, and the other star systems they’ve been to, and explain where they are going next. 

But that’s their plan at the end of the story.  As I said, I expect the main focus of the book would be these long discussions about what it means to be a pioneer.  Which, I would find interesting, but I doubt I could write.  So hopefully, someone else will.

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