Adam Neville smiled as his daughter’s face came into view on a small screen set in the wall of the space station lab. Her eyes, even at low resolution, shone crystal blue, and her black hair swung side to side as she enthusiastically waved. She’d gotten her blue eyes from Adam, and her dark complexion and pitch-black hair from Kasi, his wife. A real beauty. Adam felt the muscles in his back knot at the thought of countless boys attempting to get Carol’s attention while he swam about in space.
Kasi, sitting behind Carol, playfully pushed her daughter out of the camera’s field of view. Adam laughed.
Though they both tended to extol him for his work, Adam was sure he was the one in the family with the most to be proud of. Carol had grown up intelligent, animated and clever, and Kasi was still the most beautiful woman he’d ever met. He wanted to kiss them both, to join in their physical play, but he couldn’t be farther away.
Carol managed to wriggle in next to Kasi, and they sat together on a single, stiff guest chair somewhere in the Nasa compound in Houston, watching him in equally low resolution.
“You’re floating dad,” Carol said, her eyes wide.
Adam chuckled. “I am. I’m floating around. Makes you sick at first. A little. Now I’m okay, though. It’s fun.” He pushed sideways and, knocking into handholds and wall projections, performed a full swivel, and then awkwardly steadied himself to face the screen again. “I’m awful at it.”
After a few seconds of delay, their faces registered his stunt with grins. “Careful, Adam, you’ll open the airlock,” Kasi said, her expressive eyes squinting with laughter.
“I bet I will. These guys are great,” Adam pointed a thumb behind him, “they’d know what to do if I accidentally set off the self destruct.”
“No way there’s that, dad.”
Adam nodded. “It’s just like the movies. We have to shoo away aliens and everything.”
Kasi waved a finger at him, a gesture he always found humorous. “Adam, they will find aliens. Because of you, don’t you forget it.”
He waved a dismissive hand. She was referring to his work on the Alcubierre drive, of course, named after the Mexican physicist that had laid the groundwork for hyper-fast travel within general relativity. She talked about it more than he did, and she was a primary teacher, not a physicist. He appreciated her interest. Was even surprised by it.
He’d certainly been surprised at being awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on exotic matter harvesting and simple harmonic oscillation. Though he hadn’t laid the foundations for bending space, he was certainly the one that had discovered how to apply it to a practical mechanism that could produce relatively stable, contracted space. For that, no one had even been a runner up.
“They’re going crazy down here,” Kasi said, waving her hands in a frantic manner.
Adam sighed with longing. She moved fluidly no matter how frenetic she tried to be, and it did nothing but make him yearn to be with her more. He hadn’t embraced her supple body, or caressed her impossibly soft hair, in weeks. Ever since he’d started training to be a short-term astronaut.
“You’re on TV a lot, dad.” Carol pushed a long lock of hair behind her ear. “My friends are excited. Everyone is.”
Kasi leaned forward. “It’s bigger than the moon landing. You, you are bigger than that.”
Adam blinked away his tears. “Kas, come on now. It’s not just me, it’s all these people, they all helped on it. I’m just glad I’m even part of this stage.”
“Don’t you go walking in space, Adam. We agreed you wouldn’t.”
“I won’t. Not if I have anything to do with it.”
Of the three astronauts in Skylab C, the mini-station devoted to the faster-than-light ship, Adam knew he was the least qualified of them all for any kind of maintenance or repair work. Mission commander Chris Worth, and the ship builder, Rachel Hanson, were vastly more experienced than he was at any kind of technical space work.
Adam looked behind him and saw Rachel tapping her watch. “Sorry, need to go over specs,” she said, her English accent somehow adding impatience to her words.
He turned back to his family, biting his lip. They were perfect, like iconic expressions of beauty in a painting rather than two people made of flesh and blood. How was he worthy of these two? It took one of the most important missions in human history to push him into saying goodbye.
Tears floated from his eyes as he finally shut off the small screen. The station’s water recovery and management subsystem would steal away those globules of emotion and put them to work in some fashion that Adam couldn’t fathom.
He clumsily turned and then, grasping handholds with sweaty palms, made his way toward Rachel Hanson. His flailing progress put a smile on the ship builder’s face, and Adam couldn’t help but grin himself as he careened off a jutting computer screen. They both laughed as he came to a stop entirely upside-down relative to Rachel.
“Well, that’s done,” she said. “Now let’s try to keep you in one spot, eh?”
Adam rubbed his face hard, trying to force his grin away. “Yes, of course, m’lady.” He then slowly turned himself to face Rachel right side up.
“You could have stayed upside-down.”
“And have you stare at my nose hairs? No way.”
Rachel cleared her throat. Adam could tell she was straining not to smile, her mouth tight.
She tapped a glowing screen. “We will have to plan a stop, regardless of what the higher-ups want. Contracted space has no discernable effects on the cargo it carries, but we can’t simply allow the ship to go on for however long.”
Adam feigned surprise. “You do care, Miss Hanson.”
“I do care.”
Adam rubbed his prickly chin. “But that’s the whole deal, though. We have to test the limits of the bubbles.”
Contracted space, though harmless to those inside it, tended to be a flimsy affair, and the bubbles that formed during the process were prone to popping. It was a problem Adam had already started working on while on Earth, when he wasn’t in space looking to jump into a ship and rival light in terms of speed. But the popping did not have any other effects on the crew other than simply stopping the ride, and even then, the Alcubierre drive could easily manufacture another bubble, and the passengers could be on their way again.
“Has it occurred to you that you may end up very far away by the time the bubble dissipates? Too far away?” Rachel asked.
“They haven’t been sustained for more than the trip to Saturn on a ship this size,” Adam said. “I know you’re a good builder, and she’s a good ship, but why all of a sudden do you think they’re more stable than that? And what then? So we leave the solar system a bit. That would be phenomenal, wouldn’t it?”
“It could cause unforeseen stresses on the drive, or the ship.”
Adam cuddled next to his handhold. “Imagine that, leaving the solar system. Wow. That would make them go nuts down there.”
The foregoing is excerpted from Outside by A. J. Seguin. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from the author.