Gone

I still miss her.

Her wit and intelligence was never in question, but I found that people asked about her emotional attachment to me.

I never had any doubts.

We were developing the Drive together.  We’d come from quite different backgrounds, she was constantly surrounded at parties by a lot of Hooray Henries and me some working-class hippy with bad hair and skinny legs.  They didn’t understand why she’d blank them when I came along.

University was hard for me, I have to apply myself, do each step of what’s going on; she would perform some mental magic and leap from place to place.  Her mental faculties included pictures and dimensions and spaces that those Horrid Henries didn’t have a chance of understanding, but I did.

I could slide along the geodesic of her thought process as naturally as a walk in the woods, and I’d spend hours writing out the in-betweens of those leaps and showing her the baby steps of her genius.

It wasn’t long after we met that we slept together, and she came out to her parents and friends, to much chagrin and strife.

I didn’t even bother coming out to mine, I just said that I had a girlfriend.  Pop looked over his tablet and asked if I was making tea.  Pop always wanted another tea.  Mother asked if I needed anything.  I can’t imagine what she meant.

The Drive.

She said that after Alcubierre theorised his warp drive she started thinking about it.  All the diagrams and talk about it was about how it would warp space, but in fact it was going to alter the gravitational geodesic as well.  It was inevitable, according to her, and I worked the equations and showed what sort of field would be needed to do it.

That was the first breakthrough.  We thought.

Our paper was rubbished by the reviewers, so we ended up ridiculed when we got downloaded from arXiv.  Our supervisor, quite an old duffer in so many ways, just said,

“Carry on, ladies.  I’m sure it’s work of genius, but I’m not quite bright enough to see what’s going on here.  You’ve got the funding, don’t get discouraged.  Why don’t you build it, that’ll fix ‘em.”

So, just like that I became an experimenter.  She gave great soaring talks about the future at conferences and secured new funding for our lab, and I was introduced to people,

“This is Sophie, my partner and the true brains.”  People looked at me open mouthed that she would say this, and then dismiss it as some kind of modesty play.  They all intimidated me, so I’d curtsey, of all damn things, and shake their hands limply, smiling, saying nothing.  Good one Sophie, way to look bright and part of the team.

Oh yes, she could present herself.  A shining star in the firmament, twinkling like some sort of pretty yuppie horsey girl from yesteryear.  They loved her.

I did.

It took us a year to build the lab, and during that time our relationship changed.  I knew what I was doing all the time, and she followed.  It was cute, because she kind of hulked up over that year.  I knew she was strong anyhow, shifting bales around will do that to a girl, but there was something special about the way she would lift up half a ton of kit that half inch I needed.

That should have been a clue really.

She was already changing.  I think it had something to do with how she conceptualised the equipment in her head, her mental model was so detailed, I measured, she knew.

After a month, she could walk around the room with her eyes shut.

After six months, she could walk around the room blindfold, no matter what I changed in the room.

After a year, she mostly kept her eyes closed when she was working in the lab, because she was working on the model so closely that there was no difference for her between reality and her mental model.

That should have been another clue.

I calculated and measured and sat silent in conferences.  That first year was a whirlwind of creation.  I created and machined and built, and she built in her head.  I put together by intuition and she told me how it worked.

Then we holidayed.

I should have known better, she doesn’t like to have her creative flow disturbed, and I discovered that neither do I.

It was booked, we went.  It was fun.

When we came back, nothing seemed to go right.  Some spark was gone.  We argued, for the very first time in our relationship, professional and personal.

Part of the machinery blew up, we replaced it.  It failed again, so we built it again, talking every measurement from the blueprint from scratch.  It failed.  I redesigned the machine another way, she didn’t understand it, and it wouldn’t fit.

That was unexpected.  It didn’t fit.  The tolerances were fine to be sure, but I machined it to within those very fine tolerances, and it didn’t fit.

We measured the hole, it was right enough, and I turned my micrometer on the part at hand, it was right.  But it wouldn’t go in the hole.

We spent three weeks on that.

I lost it.  It was tube full of fairly delicate parts in a housing designed to slide straight in and I put it on the lathe and ruined it by machining it down.

It still wouldn’t fit.

I machined it some more, so that in theory the sides wouldn’t even touch the hole it was supposed to go into.

Nothing.

We called our supervisor.  He was away at a conference, so we called some engineer friends.  After all the NDA forms were signed we showed them the machine.  That took two hours, and then we showed them the hole and what was meant to go in it.

Ron was the one who said the unthinkable.

“That hole,” he said, matter of factly, “is only ninety-nine percent of the size needed to fit that bit of kit.”

“I’ve machined it down though.”  I thought about it.  “I’ve more or less buggered it up I’ve machined it down so much.”  He looked at me patiently.

“Did you measure the hole after you machined down the part?”

Jane’s eyes went large.  She got that look on her face again and closed them.

“Sophie,” she said very carefully, “can you make a part that’s a bit bigger than we need?”

“Well, yeah, I can just weld some…”

“No, Soph, from scratch.”  I looked at her.  I could see her eyes moving around under her eyelids, a sure sign she was working something.

This wasn’t familiar territory.  She made leaps, I explained things to her; I made devices, she explained them to me.  She didn’t ask me to build things.

It took a week.

What I built was basically a laser in a really strong casing with mirrors plastered either end that were arranged to that the light would pass through a specially cut ruby, I could use the old one, in a pattern that essentially meant we could pump as much energy in as we liked.  We couldn’t put too much in though, because there is this thing called a kugelblitz which is a sort of black hole formed out of light.

Our supervisor said we never had a chance of getting near that in a million years.

As it turned out, it was at least a partial concern.  At least in terms of time and how it distorts space.

The engineers had complained their super accurate engineer watches were off a by second the next day.

That should have been clue three.

The new part fit in the hole with room to spare.  I’d made it a hundred and two percent of the specified size.  It rattled around in there, I had to wedge it with a piece of paper.

“So it’s what?” I asked.  “Negative space?”

“No, Sophie, it’s just relative to the size of the energy bar,” that’s what we called it, the energy bar, “in inverse proportion.”

“That’s bullshit, Jane.”

“Shave it down a bit.”

I took it down another percentage point.  And then another half.

It fit.  Perfectly.

“See?”

“It could be an error bar.”

“No, Soph, it fit first time around.”

“It’s a tiny error.”

“It’s warped space.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“I do.”  Sometimes I wonder if that’s what powers it, her belief.  She can see it in her head.

The electricity bill for the University came and we were called into the Arch-Chancellor’s office.

“I want you to know that the bill is being a paid for by your insurance, well, our insurance, on the proviso that you stop running your experiment immediately.”  And he showed us the bill.  Twenty years with of the entire consumption of the university in our lab in one year.  “And however you wired it up, you’d better unwire it and hope they don’t try to prosecute you for fraud.” I opened my mouth to speak, but Jane got there first.

“You’d better come with us Arch-Chancellor.”

“I’ll do no such thing.”

“Now, Arch-Chancellor.”  Jane was not to be argued with when she insisted, and after a moment’s hesitation he got up.

“This had better be a good use of my time.”

“It will be.” she said calmly.

She showed him the kugelblitz device, and explained it, during which time he went rather pale.  She showed him the old device, and gave him the micrometer.  And then she took out the one that fit.

And then, just to make the point, she took a ludicrously large shaft of metal and shoved it in a hole that was far too small for it, and watched it roll back and forth with him.  She even made him a coffee while they watched.

I didn’t get any.

The Arch-Chancellor’s response was formal,

“I am satisfied that your use of University resources, however egregious, has been on this occasion, fully justified, but I would ask that in future should you have any, exiguous requirements, by which clearly I mean substantial, that you place a request in writing to me personally.  Or possibly, make an appointment for a cup of tea.”

“You would have said no, Arch-Chancellor.

“Charles, please, and you are right, but not any more.”  He waved his now empty coffee cup vaguely in the air and I took it from him silently, I think he was shocked I was there, and went off, presumably to get something stronger in the way of fortification, and make some phone calls.

Jane grabbed me and hugged me and kissed me and danced up and down in glee.

“Er, what just happened?”

“We just got funded, forever.”

“Yes, but,”

“And we’re going to be famous!”

“Yes but,”

“And we’re going to get tenure!”  I thought about that.

“Hurrah.” I said with little enthusiasm.  “What the hell have we built?”

“That, in there, is warped space.”  She said gleefully.  “Don’t you see?”  She went into a long explanation of it, it’s my field and I didn’t understand any of it.  She did say the word “tesseract” once, but when she finished I felt alone for the first time in a long time.  The equations buzzing around my head made no sense, and I had to sit down and write.

Jane was used to this, and waited, and drank coffee.

I couldn’t make it work.

“Nevermind, we’ve got loads of time to work it out.  Let’s build the big one, let’s build something we can step into!”

If my head had been on straight I’d have said no, but she was so excited.

She got, well, Charles, excited too and I implemented all her ideas, not without some misgivings.  The National Grid piped in some serious power.  We were given our own building and team, which I was given, um, how shall I put it?  Dominion, over.

“Oh yes, Soph, you be in charge, you have a talent for people.”  I didn’t.  I don’t, but her mind was in the stars.

It was a year again before it was ready.  We had a spacesuit and everything.  The distortion was actually visible and we’d thrown few things in and they duly popped out a day later, or a week, unchanged, unaged.  Some round trip that was shorter the more massive the object.  But we needed to see.

Jane was nervous the night before.  We made love, but it wasn’t the same.

I knew.

There were cameras going and reporters from serious scientific journals, and people from NASA and ESA.  And Jane in a spacesuit.

She said she was going around the solar system, and she’d be back in five minutes with hours and hours of space tourist footage.  That was our calculation.  It was wrong.

I’m an old woman now, and I’ve been waiting all these years, and I did the calculations over, but this time I included the mass of her soul, her ego, her Id.  All that stuff, it has negative mass, that’s why we knew it was there but could never detect it.

She’s due back any day now, my beautiful Jane.

I’ve had tenure, a career.  But I never taught, just the occasional lecture.  It always comes back to Jane, sooner or later.

I’ve been waiting a long time.

I’m not sure I can wait any