Jennifer Nichols pinched the bridge of her nose as she looked over the latest figures from Walker and Nina.
“I’ve gone over the numbers again and again,” Nina said via webcam conference call. “I can’t find any kind of relativistic or Newtonian effect in what we have. Hermes didn’t accelerate or decelerate. It . . . transitioned to superluminal speed, then when the mesh was torn loose, it fell back to sublight.”
“I’ve run the numbers, too,” Walker said. “I can’t find it, either. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s the only thing that makes sense. Hermes wouldn’t survive if had to actually be accelerated up to and past the speed of light.”
“Is this right?” Jennifer pointed at the figures on the screen. “We’re looking at, roughly 1.4 light years per hour as Hermes’s flight speed during this window?”
“Give or take,” Nina confirmed.
“Peterson is having a fit.” Walker munched on some popcorn. “He’s desperately trying to figure out a way for relativistic calculations to still work.”
“He and Carr,” Nina added. She put the finishing touches on a paper airplane, and then let it fly.
“So, any luck with the tachyons?” Walker asked.
Jennifer blew out a long, frustrated breath the pushed out her bangs.
“That good, huh?”
“The problem is that we’re talking about particles. Even if they physically can’t go below the speed of light, they’d still have to act as a physical force on Hermes. That alone means there would have to be inertia and acceleration by Hermes. But that can’t be because we don’t have that acceleration.”
“I know; that’s why Peterson is still is still adamant it can work,” Nina said. The plane had landed back in her lap, so now she tweaked the hand-torn flaps for another toss.
“I’m with you guys,” Walker sipped the straw in his energy drink. “Whatever this is, it completely invalidates Einstein and Newton.”
“No, not invalidates. It can’t be invalidates. We know Newton and Einstein both work. Mass, gravity, expansion of the universe, fabric of space-time, it all works. This is something different. It’s just not relative. No, that’s not the right. . . . We’re working in a completely new framework. We have unknown laws of physics.”
“Yeah, that makes sense, I guess,” Walker admitted. “Not like we can actually see it, you know with it moving faster than light. Kind of puts us in the dark.”
In the dark? Wait. . . .
“Say that again,” she said, scrambling for her notebook and pencil.
“Not invalidates—” Nina began.
“No, not you, Nina, sorry. Walker, what did you say?”
“Makes sense. We can’t see it.”
“No, after that.”
“What, that we’re in the dark?”
“That’s it!” she yelled.
“You thinking dark matter?” Nina asked. “I thought of that, kind of an anti-gravity repulsion that would stretch space-time, and Hermes with it, but it wouldn’t be nearly that fast.”
“No, not dark matter, dark energy. One of the problems with tachyons is the source. Where are they coming from, and how can such a large concentration of them be there in that space to grab Hermes?”
“We’d have the same problem with dark energy. What’s making it?” Walker said.
“No we wouldn’t,” Nina said, going to her own data slate. The oscillating fan pushed the paper airplane into her hair, but she ignored it. “All calculations show that dark energy is the most prevalent thing in the universe. It’s out there, we just can’t detect it.”
“And what if it’s not static?” Jennifer said.
“Say what now?” Walker pulled the straw out of his energy drink, chugging the whole can.
“We’re thinking in terms of radiation, like heat, or even light, propagating from a single source. We keep trying to identify that source, but we can’t find one. But what if behaves differently than that?”
“So what does it behave like?”
Jennifer pointed to Nina’s hair. “Like that!”
“A paper airplane?” Nina said, pulling it out of her hair.
“No. The fan pushed that plane onto Nina’s head. What if it’s like that? The dark energy is in motion, like—like wind? The dark energy, in motion, interacted with the mesh, pulling it along as the dark energy blew.”
Understanding dawned on their faces, and they began working at the slates furiously. Jennifer went to her notebook, her thoughts becoming scattered as giddiness swam through with the adrenaline and endorphins of discovery.