The First Frontier

"That's Jupiter," I gasp, seeing a huge orange and red bands which dominates the lower half of the scene outside the ship. We are floating over it.


"That's Jupiter! Instantaneous translocation? We got from Earth to here in... an eyeblink!"

"Magic," says Ed, checking over a large number of readings and gauges to make sure, among other, more terrible possibilities, that the ship isn't about to decompress around us. "Light can eat our dust," he adds.

"Why do you call it magic?"

"Clarke once said that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I figured the technology that just tunnelled us across thirty-six light minutes of vacuum was sufficiently advanced to be worthy of the name."

"So you can't tell me how it works?"

"No. But I can tell you its limitations, and they're worth knowing. Number one: conservation of momentum. We retain all our angular and linear momentum. If we're spinning before a jump we'll be spinning after it."


"Number two: conservation of potential energy. The gravitational potential difference between our start and end points is always zero. That means you can only jump between places where escape velocity is the same. That means we can jump from, say, a position on the Earth to one above Jupiter with ease, but not any point in between. If you figure out the equipotentials it also means you can't jump from the Earth's surface to ANYWHERE near the Moon... because the Moon, all of it, is too far out of the gravity well. And, if we wanted to visit the Sun, then we could do it now, but it wouldn't be a good idea... because we'd end up VERY low over its surface, and probably fry.

"Which is where the screw drive comes in. You notice we've got gravity in here?"

I blink, and do indeed. A steady one gee is still pulling me downwards in the same way that it has for my entire life. "Artificial gravity?"

Ed laughs once, sharply. "Artificial gravity? Well how about inventing antigravity as well while you're at it?" He roars with laughter. "Ehh, forget it, you weren't to know. To the best of my knowledge, which, granted, is incomplete, it's physically impossible to fake a graviton. The only way to get real gravity in here would be to plate the underside of the ship with neutronium, and quite frankly if you find someone with the technology to obtain and work neutronium, do give me his, her, or its phone number. We appear to have gravity in here because the screw drive in the ship skeleton is accelerating upwards and pulling the ship up with it at nine point eight one metres per second per second. We're heading out of Jupiter's gravity well. This control here? I can harden or soften our acceleration."

Ed makes sure I have my seat harness on and fiddles with the control a little, exposing me to highs of two and a half gees and lows of a worryingly upside-down minus one, with a moment of weightlessness in between. I try to stop myself feeling ill as we resume our ascendant trajectory.

"The screw drive is for manoeuvring in real space - raising and lowering the ship through gravity wells in between jumps, and also for docking and jazz. And finally, number three: point and shoot. To make a jump, you use this other control to aim the antenna at wherever it is you want to go. Draw a line across the universe in that direction. Sooner or later it'll intersect another part of space with the same gravitational potential as this one. We stop there. We aim at Jupiter, we stop at Jupiter. We aim at a star, we stop there. We miss the star by slightly too much - I'm not sure what happens."

"Just out of curiosity, do you have anything in here which is designed for real jazz?"

Ed turns on a piece of music which, after a while, I realise is Also Sprach Zarathustra. Groan. "Aww, come on, originality, dude."

We go through Blue Danube, the Imperial March theme, Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech and Aerosmith's "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" before I persuade Ed to give a rest to his somewhat erratic audio library and put on some actual jazz.

"You know," says Ed, as we soar out of Jupiter's gravity well and admire the Spot, "in all of this universe's history there have probably been billions of cvilizations. And I'm sure at least a few million of those have made it into space and discovered magic. So for each civilization there's gonna be this one guy who first had the idea, and invented the magic drive. One guy for each civilization. And for humanity, that's me. I'm... I'm the first representative of humanity on the universal stage. Like, if you're gonna hold a council with one person from each civilization, and you say you're holding it at the centre of the galaxy, and it's first come, first served... then that's me. I mean... that's like the coolest thing ever. I mean... if the whole point of spaceflight is coolness, then that's it, mission accomplished and we can go home now, know what I mean?"

"Aren't there prizes you can claim for getting into space on a privately-owned spaceship?" I muse.

"Yeah, but I'll leave them. Somebody who actually put in some effort can have the cash. I have the unfair advantage of being a frickin' genius."

"This is true."

I've never found out where Ed's money actually comes from. He runs out of notes at the pub sometimes, but apart from that he never, ever worries about cash and always appears to have limitless resources on hand. He of all people does not need this money. My current theory is that he licenses out some insanely valuable industrial process for which he owns the patent.

"I wanna go to Andromeda," says Ed, rotating the ship to point towards an extraordinarily distant blob of light.

"We can't go to Andromeda," I remind him sternly.

"Well then I have a better idea."

Next: Men Like Large Amounts Of Kinetic Energy

Discussion (6)

2015-01-11 02:30:10 by Cantthinkofname:

Wait. If you teleported to a point near Jupiter that had the same gravitational potential as the surface of earth, wouldn't 9.8 m/s/s be exactly enough to hover over Jupiter, but not enough to escape it's gravity?

2015-03-21 20:30:09 by Algorithm:

You're forgetting the ship's momentum. It had enough on Earth to keep up with a rock orbiting the Sun; that's more than enough to orbit Jupiter.

2016-04-05 01:49:19 by Evonix:

The same height in differing gravity wells does not necessarily have the same gradient, plus atmosfear

2019-12-10 03:36:38 by The Apocalyptic:

Firstly: That's 'atmosphere'. Secondly, Ed already invented antigravity, remember?

2021-06-07 06:22:39 by Christopher Jones:

When the teleportation device have to take you inside the sun? Google is telling me surface gravity of the sun is 28 times that of Earth. My astrophysical knowledge consists mainly of the fact that "the sun is very big."

2021-06-07 07:59:14 by Christopher Jones:

Ugh, I was embarrassingly wrong. Please delete my comment above or leave it here as a warning to others not to post to without thinking.

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