From Jupiter IV
I followed Jackie through the air-lock-style double doorway and into a round room about ten meters across. Spaced evenly around the circular room were three bench-like structures protruding from the wall. Two other doorways were located in the wall opposite the entrance. Dr. Sharma stood near one of the benches. He was slight of build, not as tall as me, and had snow white hair. The smile on his face illuminated the room.
“I’ve seen pictures and virtual vids of this place, Dr. Sharma, but the real thing is still the real thing, isn’t it?”
“So it is, Augie. I can’t tell you how glad we all are to have you here safe and sound. I understand you are more than a little responsible for that, Captain LeCarte.” He stepped forward and offered his hand to her.
“Maybe a little. I just did what any pilot would.” Jackie took his hand and shook it firmly.
“Yeah, just any old average super ace jet jockey with nerves of steel and lightning reflexes,” I said as I shook his hand in turn. “Don’t let her kid you, Dr. Sharma. She’s tops, by my reckoning.”
“Okay, guys, compliment accepted. Thank and thank you again.” Jackie blushed visibly. “Now, Dr. Sharma, please explain to this country girl what this place is.”
“I honestly don’t know, young lady. They didn’t leave any pictures of themselves, and anything that wasn’t nailed down was taken by old T.A. Scott when he visited here in 1956.”
“Excuse me if it takes me a minute to get a hold of this. I have always known, known for sure, mind you, that the story of this place and T.A. Scott was a hoax. No different from all the other UFO myths and hoaxes that have been floating around since who knows when. Now I am confronted with evidence my own eyes can see that what I thought was true was actually wrong. Please, let me get my bearings.”
“Maybe I can help you understand these things a little better. I want to show both of you something.” Dr. Sharma had a small device in his hand, about the size of a handset phone. He pushed a button, and the room filled with glowing images of stars, nebulae, and other stellar objects. The overall pattern of the images was unfamiliar.
“This sure looks different in person than it did on virtual vid,” I said.
“Yes, doesn’t it?”
“I’ve never seen any of it before. What are we looking at?” Jackie asked.
“Watch, Captain LeCarte,” Dr. Sharma said softly.
Almost imperceptibly, the points of light began to move. They slowly formed into a disc with a large, glowing hub and two spiral arms that radiated out from its edges. The image was tilted toward us such that we had a perspective view. After many minutes, the shape was recognizable as a galaxy.
“It’s a holographic image of a spiral galaxy like ours,” Jackie said. “Where is the projector?”
“I don’t know,” Sharma responded. “As best I can tell, it is coming from this whole structure.”
“What does that thing in your hand do?” Jackie asked. “Isn’t that the control?”
“There is no control. This just emits a very low-energy, long-wave radio transmission at a single frequency in all directions. When it is on, the image forms. I discovered it by accident twenty-five years ago.”
“How did you get the projection to change from that chaotic mess into an image of the Milky Way?” I asked.
“I didn’t. I don’t believe that mess, as you called it, is what it appears to be. I believe that is how the people who built this place saw the Milky Way. Then, somehow, it changed into how we see it. Honestly, Augie, to this day I’m not sure we are actually seeing this with our eyes. We may only be seeing it in our brains.”
“This is wild!” Jackie exclaimed. “What are those green spots scattered around?”
“Dr. Sharma thinks they mark the locations of other outposts like this one.” I had seen the virtual vids of the star map when we were doing the research for the drive.
“Notice how they are all located in the annulus of the galactic habitable zone?” he asked.
“You mean that washer-shaped ring around the Milky Way, where there is enough metal for Earth-like planets to form, yet not so much high-energy radiation and so forth that it would kill off the life forms?” Jackie knew her stuff all right.
“That’s it, Captain. Now keep watching.” The image gradually grew and rotated until it appeared as though we were looking straight down on it. Then it came closer until it exceeded the size of the room. Soon we were looking at only one section of the ring. Several of the green spots were located on stars in the ring. The image got larger. After what seemed like hours, we were looking down on a star system with planets. As it grew, the inner planets resolved more distinctly, and two of them, the third and the fourth out from the star, had green spots on them.
“That’s our own solar system. But there are two of those spots. One is on Earth. Those are pretty good pictures by the way.” She said this as the features of the various planetary systems resolved more clearly.
“I don’t think they are pictures, Captain.”
“What are they then?”
“I think we are looking — looking with our minds but looking nonetheless — at the actual solar system, right at this moment.”
“The planets are sure in the right places.” I got out my phone and pulled up the solar system on the web. “Jupiter’s Galilean moons are correct for this date and time. Back last year, when you first showed me a recording of this thing, I had assumed this to be just a fancy 3-D video projection of some kind until you suggested that it was an actual image of real-time events. That’s when the light went on for me.”
Jackie looked at Dr. Sharma, then at me. “Let me get this straight. You guys are telling me that we are actually looking at the solar system from some point above it? Then that means we were looking at the Milky Way from thousands of light years away just a few minutes ago. How can that be?”
“That was my question when Dr. Sharma first mentioned his suspicions. Answering those questions, at least some of them, led to the interval drive. It’s what made me realize that ’t Hooft’s fifth dimension really existed and wasn’t just another mathematical parlor trick.”
“Mathematics is not a parlor trick, Augie,” Sharma rejoined.
“Sorry, sir; we can save that argument for another day. But you are exactly right to ask that question, Jackie, because it is at the heart of the issue. Once you know this thing can work and have vantage points thousands of light years apart almost simultaneously, you know that the old cosmic speed limit is out the window. Then it is just a practical problem of figuring out how to do it. Travel faster than light, I mean.”
“How do we know it isn’t just a projection of some artificially created image, like they would use in a virtual video?” Jackie asked.
“Another good question, Captain. We figured that, based on the relative size of the Milky Way in the image at the beginning, we must have a vantage point about twenty-four thousand light years away. We then located some known stellar objects about halfway between us. We compared dozens of them. What we saw in our telescopes, which was an image twelve thousand years old, was the same as what we saw in the projection. As it moved closer, we kept up the comparisons and they continued to match until we get to the one that actually resolves the solar system. As Augie pointed out, that one is today, right now in fact. They were always the same. It is like we are actually there: observing in person.”