I finish a full circle with the Petrovascope. Nothing. So I do another lap. Maybe Rocky is farther than I thought.
The second lap turns up nothing.
Well, I’m not done yet. Space is three-dimensional. I’ve only searched one flat slice of the area. I pitch the ship forward 5 degrees.
I do the same search pattern again. But this time, the plane of my search pattern is 5 degrees different from the last time. If I don’t get a hit on this pass, I’ll do another 5-degree tilt and try again. And so on until I get to 90 degrees, when I will have searched all directions.
And if that doesn’t work, I’ll start over, but with a faster pan rate on the Petrovascope.
I rub my hands together, take a sip of water, and get to work.
* * *
I finally see a flash!
Halfway through my Petrova pan of the 55-degree plane. A flash!
I flail in surprise, which launches me out of the seat. I bounce around the zero-g control room and scramble back into position. It’s been slow going up till now. I was as bored as a guy could be. But not anymore!
“Crud! Where was it! Okay! Relax! Calm down. Calm down!”
I put my finger on the screen where I saw the blip. I check the Petrovascope bearing, do some math on the screen, and work out the angle. It’s 214 degrees’ yaw in my current plane, which is 55 degrees off the Tau Ceti–Adrian orbital ecliptic.
Time for a better reading. I strap on my now-worn and banged-up stopwatch. Zero g has not been kind to the little guy, but it still works.
I take the controls and angle the ship directly away from the contact. I start the stopwatch, thrust in a straight line for ten seconds, turn, and shut down the engines. I’m moving something like 150 meters per second away from the contact, but that doesn’t matter. I don’t want to zero out the velocity I just added. I want the Petrovascope.
I stare at the screen with the stopwatch ticking away in my hand. Soon, I see the blip again. Twenty-eight seconds. The spot of light remains for ten seconds, then disappears.
I can’t guarantee it’s the Blip-A. But whatever it is, it’s definitely a reflection of my spin drives. And it’s fourteen light-seconds away (fourteen seconds to get there, fourteen seconds to get back equals twenty-eight seconds). That works out to about 4 million kilometers.
No point in trying to work out the object’s velocity by taking multiple readings. I don’t have that kind of precision with my “finger on the screen” approach. But I have a heading.
I can cover 4 million kilometers in nine and a half hours.
I fist-pump. “Yes! I’m definitely going to die!”
I don’t know why I said that. I guess…well, if I wasn’t able to find Rocky, I’d set course for Earth. I’m surprised I put this much effort into it, actually.
Whatever. I set course for where I saw the blip and fire up the engines. I don’t even need to account for relativity on this one. Just high-school physics. I’ll accelerate half the way, then decelerate the other half.
* * *
I spend the next nine hours cleaning up. I’m going to have a guest again!
Rocky will have to plug up all the holes he made in the xenonite walls. But that shouldn’t be a problem.
That assumes the contact I got was the Blip-A and not just a random piece of debris in space.
I try not to think about it. Keep hope alive and all that.
I move all my junk out of the xenonite areas.
Once I’m done with that, I fidget a lot. I want to stop and do another sweep to confirm my heading, but I resist the urge. Just wait it out.
I stare at the aluminum Taumoeba farm in my lab. And the slide of Astrophage next to it in the Taumoeba alarm. Everything is going just fine. Maybe I could—
The timer beeps. I’m at the location!
I scramble up the ladder to the control room and shut off the spin drives. I have the Radar screen up before I even get in the chair. I do a full active ping and full power. “Come on…come on….”
I settle into the seat and strap in. I thought something like this might happen. I’m a lot closer to the contact now, but still not in radar range. I just traveled 4 million kilometers. Radar range is less than a thousandth of that. So my precision isn’t 99.9 percent. Big surprise.
Time for another Petrovascope sweep. But this time I don’t have the luxury of a full light-minute between me and the contact, wherever it is. If I’m, say, 100,000 kilometers away, I’ll have less than a second before the light comes back to me. And I can’t use the Petrovascope with the spin drives on.
So now what?
I need to create a bunch of Astrophage light without turning off the Petrovascope. I look through the menu options and don’t find anything. There’s no way to have the scope on when the spin drives are running. It must be a physical interlock somewhere. Somewhere aboard this ship is a wire leading from the spin-drive controls to the Petrovascope. I could spend the rest of my life looking for that and have no success.
However, the main engines aren’t the only spin drives I have.
The attitude-adjustment engines are little spin drives sticking out the side of the Hail Mary. They’re what let me yaw, pitch, and roll the ship. I wonder if the Petrovascope cares about them?
I keep the scope on and do a quick roll to the left. The ship rolls and the scope stays active!
Got to love those edge cases! Though I’m sure someone on the design team thought of this case. They probably decided the comparatively small output from the attitude drives wouldn’t hurt the scope. And, looking at the overall concepts, it makes sense. The engines and attitude drives all point away from the ship and thus away from the Petrovascope. The reason it shuts down when the main drives are on is because of reflected light off small amounts of cosmic dust. The reflected light from the far less powerful adjustment drives was deemed acceptable.
But those adjustment drives are still putting out enough light to vaporize steel. Maybe they’ll be enough to light up the Blip-A.
I aim the Petrovascope parallel to the port-side yaw thruster. In fact, I can see the thruster itself in the bottom of the visible-light mode image. I fire it up.
There’s definitely a visible glow in the Petrova spectrum. A general haze near the thruster, like turning on a flashlight in the fog. But after a few seconds the haze dies down. It’s still there, just not as prevalent.
Probably dust and trace gases from the Hail Mary herself. Tiny particles of stuff drifting away from the ship. Once the thruster vaporized all the ones nearby, things calmed down.