by John Steiner

The Mockingbird is again drawn to the Kuiper Belt, when a mysterious object is triggered by human discovery. Believing it may be related to the disappearance of the Astraeus Fifteen Hundred NATO deploys a Flipspace-capable strike group and calls on Colonel Rama and her crew to aid the International Space Organization’s study. Finding the location of a star system with possible signs of life, the strike group is sent to investigate what phenomenon may threaten the future of exo-solar exploration.


Chapter 1

Above and Far Beyond

Its surface was colder than the vacuum of space around it. Above, no stars shone, despite the micro-planetoid’s distance from sun. That was due to an artificial barrier that behaved, in part, like an event horizon. Objects of mass could pass through it freely and not be ripped apart down to the quantum level, but no light crossed the membrane that exhibited its own gravity. The small astral body of artificial origin, however, proved far more incredible to those working on its surface.

EVA-equipped modulated humanoid robots assisted human astronauts from the International Space Organization, Roscosmos, several nonmember countries with intra-solar spaceflight capability and three small cooperative firms from Remote Space Conglomerated Industries. That the artificial sphere hadn’t been the product of human engineering meant Naval Aerospace Treaty Organization had no legal grounds to bar research teams from the Russian Federation or RSCI. It was presumed that the Jade Continuum on Mars must’ve already gotten whatever they wanted to learn from the planetoid. They issued no return transmission to offers of joint exploration and study.

“Dr. Vittori?” he heard someone address him over suit comms over his own breathing.

“Vittori here,” he answered. “Go ahead.”

“We’re preparing another absorption test,” the ISO tech support specialist informed him.

“Stand by,” Vittori replied as he lightly tiptoed over glossy obsidian toward another work crew further from the landing site. “I want to check on the drilling.”

“Yeah, about that,” the Canadian team leader spoke over comms as he stood up. “It’s a no-go on penetration. Just like with all the other drill bits and emitters.”

“Wait a minute,” Vittori sputtered, slowing his pace to a stop several meters from the group and a large down-pointed emitter. “You’re telling me anti-matter isn’t penetrating?”

“That’s what I’m tellin’ ya, Doc,” the drill boss said. “And I haven’t the faintest clue why.”

“But electro-weak resonance tests confirm the presence of bosons in the composition.”

“Maybe it’s just the surface then,” the team leader suggested, “though obviously we’re not stepping on anti-particles. Is there anything else you can think of that has solidity?”

“Matter or anti-matter, it cannot be anything else,” Vittori insisted.

“Just remember, we didn’t put this here, but somebody did,” the drill team boss reminded.

“Dr. Vittori,” an alarmed tech called out, “we’re getting an anomaly in the atomic clock stations! I think the planetoid is creating gravimetric waves.”

“Attention,” Vittori announced across all channels, “everyone is advised to engage safety protocols. We’re returning to pods for immediate extraction from the surface.”

Amid confirmations of the order, someone else exclaimed, “The membrane!”

Vittori risks losing his footing on the virtually frictionless surface to lean back and cast his gaze to what had been pitch-black sky. The barrier effect against light appeared to be breaking down in one region, as though eaten away...except Dr. Vittori knew Sol star fields like the back of his hand.

“Dr. Vittori,” an astronaut assigned to monitor the network of portable instruments addressed him, “we’re getting readings consistent with tesseract formation!”

In panic, Vittori tried to whirl around and make for the nearest ascent pod. The surface reacted with that electric bounce sound through his suit, as his feet slipped and he spun in place before slowly landing on one side. He’d thrown up his arms to protect his helmet, and then dared a glance to see that his visor was still intact. He also saw that cables to the pods were still dangling down from the ships, which had lowered them through the membrane to the planetoid’s surface.

Vittori had feared that the planetoid was conducting a spatial rotation back to its point of origin, but realized that would’ve severed the cables if it had.

“Monitor all gravimetric waves and start an algorithm,” Vittori called out.

“Acknowledged,” a hurried voice answered, “gravity wave log started!”

“All personnel resume evacuation procedure,” Vittori ordered, as he struggled to get up.

“That’s it, people,” he heard the drilling team leader echo the command, “just leave it an’ get moving! C’mon, let’s go!”

Vittori himself started a one-two hop, and threw frequent looks to the apparent hole in the membrane. There he noticed a cluster of star-like points that weren’t quite in the same place as a moment ago. Still in a hurry to get back to his pod, Vittori started keying commands into his suit arm. If what he suspected proved true, humanity would have a quick answer to learn who had built the micro-planetoid and deployed it near the Kuiper Belt Object 2039 WX2. It was the place where Jade Continuum remote fire chain stations had ambushed both the Magpie and Mockingbird.

"Flipspace: Derivation" by John Steiner


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