Macomber adjusted his glasses as cover to rub his temple to stave off the impending migraine. Andrews and Peterson were at it again, not ten slides into Andrews’ presentation.
“The ion drive’s mesh? That’s what you’ve come up with? What could the mesh possibly have to do with anything? It’s a simple weave of metal held on by four small screws.”
“Yes, and it’s missing. I’ve combed through everything else, and there’s nothing out of place.”
“Could a micrometeoroid have struck it?” Carr asked.
“Unlikely—” began Andrews.
“Are you out of your mind?” Peterson broke in. “Any impact would have hit the vehicle itself. To hit the mesh, and only the mesh, it would have to have exactly the right velocity, the right angle, all lined up with Hermes perfectly in order to avoid leaving any other trace.”
Andrews shrugged and nodded.
Carr, put in his place, sank into his chair a little, scribbling a hangman’s noose on his pad.
“Keep going, Walker,” Macomber said.
“Okay, so, like I was saying, the mesh is the only thing out of place. Now, we know roughly when the mesh came off because Hermes logs the voltage usage. Because the mesh was part of the ion engine’s system, we’ve got spare voltage because it wasn’t engaged.”
“That doesn’t tell us what happened to it, or how it could be responsible for the satellite ending up 87 light days out of the solar system in a few days’ time,” Peterson fumed.
“Actually, it wasn’t a few days. The log registers that the voltage change happened 27 hours after our last communication.”
“Peterson!” Macomber snapped. “Andrews, continue.”
“Thank you, sir. As I was saying, the voltage changed happened 27 hours after our last communication. So at that time, the mesh was no longer there. There are only a couple of possibilities that I can see. The first case is that the mesh was consumed in a chemical reaction that somehow propelled the satellite.”
“Unlikely,” Carr said, “there isn’t a reaction energetic enough to push a satellite to faster than the speed of light.”
“On account of Einstein,” Peterson muttered.
“They’re right. The pictures also don’t show any kind of damage or thermal shock to the skin of the vehicle, so a chemical reaction is unlikely.”
“What’s the other idea?”
“A tachyon current could have interacted with the mesh, pushing Hermes. Since the stress on the mesh would have been so great, it would have been ripped off the ion engine.”
“It would explain the FTL,” Carr mused.
“Special relativity has ruled out tachyons because they violate causality,” Peterson was more vocal, this time, but semi-civil.
“Twenty-seven hours,” Macomber said, punching numbers into his digital pad.
“Yes, sir.” Andrews nodded, pointing at the slide. “That’s when the ion engine registered—”
“Hermes is back to normal, ion engine speeds?”
Macomber whistled, shaking his head. He did the calculation again, with the same result. “Hermes traveled 87 light days in 27 hours, if your theory about the mesh is right. That means it traveled 3.2 light days per hour.”
“That’s over 75 times the speed of light,” Carr said.
“Seventy-six point eight,” Peterson corrected.
“What’s the name of the facility where they claim to have observed tachyons?” Macomber asked.
“Shen-Yu. But it’s unconfirmed,” Peterson said.
“Only because it’s the only facility like it in the world,” Carr said.
“Shen-Yu. Well, it’s time I talk to their director. We may have just observed them, too.”