Dr. Nina Elsbeth swallowed hard as she followed Edward Carr to the conference room. She wondered if she had spoken out of turn at the open announcement regarding Hermes. It had been a struggle to fit in with the “good old boys” of ISA, despite all claims that any kind of sexism had long been eliminated. Sure, she hadn’t had to endure any kind of hazing beyond math proofs, which any graduate student could handle. But in general she kept to herself and tried to do her job to the best of her ability, calculating orbital paths for the Helios flybys of Venus and Mercury on the way to the Sun. Helios would test a radical type of magnetic particle shield to deflect radiation and heat away from the satellite.
“Dr. Elsbeth,” said Jim Macomber. Macomber was about seven levels above her in the ISA hierarchy as the deputy director. The only reason he had not moved on to be director was simply that he wanted to continue a hands-on approach, especially with Hermes.
Nina sat, folding her hands over her data slate and paper notebook. She found that, for certain problems, paper and pencil were still the best way of computing.
“Thank you,” Macomber said. “Just now, after the announcement, you did not react the same way as everyone else. I distinctly remember you bent over your slate, performing a calculation. What was that?”
“Oh? Um, well, nothing. Just a random thought.”
“We could use a little more of that,” said Walker Andrews. She didn’t know him, personally, but had read his papers, and liked his thinking.
“It’s nothing, really.”
“I will judge that,” Macomber insisted.
With a small gulp, Nina pulled her paper notebook out, turning it to the page with her sketch of Phillip Berge, the loudmouth who had been opposing the announcement that Hermes had exceeded the speed of light. To the right of it was her hastily scrawled calculation.
Macomber took the notebook, quirking an eyebrow at the sketch, which made her blush, then squinted at the numbers.
“Fourteen minutes? What’s that?” Macomber passed the notebook to Andrews.
She shrugged. “I thought,” she took a deep breath to try and steady herself. “I thought that the second spike in the gravimeter was the mesh tearing loose.”
“I said that,” Andrews said, passing the notebook over to Peterson.
“Right, but there was a smaller spike fourteen minutes before that.”
“Barely a bump,” Peterson said, passing the notebook to Carr, who shared it with Nichols. “Probably instrumentation.”
“Probably?” Macomber stared at Peterson.
Walker shook his head. “No, it wasn’t that. It was the crossover through the shock. That’s the time Hermes entered interstellar space.”
“Right. Well, what if . . . what if that was also the moment of acceleration?”
“No way. That’s imposs—”
“Peterson!” Macomber cut the man short. “Continue, Doctor.”
“Well, I mean, the older satellites that crossed into interstellar space never registered a spike that big. The ones we installed gravimeters to, obviously. Neither Voyager or Odyssey had those, but all three Nyx satellites did. They registered less than half of that reading when they crossed over.”
“Did anyone think to look at that?” Macomber looked around the room.
Everyone shook their heads.
“So your hypothesis, your calculation, is that Hermes exited the solar system, then began accelerating to speed, and then the mesh was torn loose fourteen minutes later?”
Nina shrugged, wanting to be able to disappear. “Maybe? I guess. It was just, I don’t’ know, a fantasy. Wouldn’t that be amazing that the satellite managed to cover 87 light days in fourteen minutes?” She looked around the room to see them all bent over their data slates, checking out information or doing their own calculations, muttering to themselves.
“Doctor, you may have just given us a desperately needed lead. Welcome to the control crew of Hermes,” Macomber said.