AND NOW FOR ANOTHER STORY ABOUT EGGS.
I really love this one. @misterkeefe got potentially the most ludicrous brief in the pack, and developed it into something utterly straight-faced, and totally gripping. If Michael Crichton had been really into eggs, I could imagine him having written this story.
STORY NUMBER: 24
PROMPT PROVIDER: @edjeff
They emailed Laura to let her know the DARPA auditor was coming. It was only a week’s notice, but that was enough to schedule the flight and let the final dietary tweaks work their magic.
She was standing out front with the chickens when the car rolled up and disgorged its cargo of Defence bureaucrat. He eyed her in distaste, noting the scruffy labcoat and the birds pecking in the dust round her feet, but made a big show of shaking her hand in greeting. Laura’s smile stayed fixed even when an unfortunate gust of wind carried the “fresh off the reservation” he muttered to his driver all the way to her ears. The window was close.
“There are concerns about your feed requisitions,” he began, turning to her with an officious scowl. “It’s irregular for a facility like this to have on-site animal stock. Someone’s been filing requests for titanium dust and nanotube substrate via the federal feed pellet form.”
The hens clucked gently around her as she nodded, their internal organs busy compressing grit to smooth shell. “That’s probably in order, colonel. These are working lab animals. Their diet is unusual.”
He snorted in disbelief and spoke slowly, as if she were a child. “How closely do you watch your animal handlers? We’ve had cases of embezzlement. They think we don’t check the routine forms as often, but we do.”
She wondered who had briefed him, and what they really wanted. The feed receipts would check out, even on a rigorous inspection. The chickens ate up every scrap.
The colonel continued. “This site’s down on the black budget as a particle research facility. I have no idea what the need is for any animals on-site at all. Frankly, Ms. Walker, none of this makes sense. I don’t see the point of your operation, and if I can shut you down, I will.”
Laura nearly laughed at his useless threat, but she retained her composure and allowed worry to creep into her smile, the epitome of a scientist confronted by her funding source.
“Absolutely, colonel, I understand. Why don’t you come up with me on one of our survey flights? It’ll get you up to speed with the project.”
He shook his head and indicated the building behind her. “I think we’d better go in there first. Let’s not give your staff a chance to hide anything while we’re out on a joyride.”
She ignored the implication. “There’s nothing in that building except the canteen. Everything’s airborne, for safety. We can’t run experiments until we’re some distance out to sea.”
She gestured to the runway and the C-130 transport aircraft that was waiting there, its cargo bay taken up almost entirely by the complicated bulk of the linear accelerator.
The colonel assented with bad grace, but once they were on board he relaxed into the familiar surroundings. “I’ve heard a few rumours about this place,” he said.
“You’re not just about chickens. An old NSA buddy says your kit can do anything. Even send particles back in time.”
Laura had no patience with his clumsy fishing for information. “With respect, colonel, your buddy is wrong. We’re scientists, we’re not trying to kill Hitler.” Maybe next time round, she added in the privacy of her own head. The window was coming.
The colonel sulked until the roar of the engines starting suppressed further conversation. In silence, they strapped themselves into the webbing that lined the cargo bay’s walls and prepared for take-off. For once, Laura didn’t have to help a guest with the harness.
“So if it’s not time-travel, then what good is it?” the colonel yelled in her ear once they were well airborne, the Atlantic a blue expanse beneath them.
“You have to understand, we are a particle acceleration lab!” she yelled back. “But a macroscopic one, not just for particles! We’ve worked out how to accelerate coherent collections of matter at significant sub-light velocities!” Well, mostly sub-light, until they got into the Weismeyer Gap and found some curious edge cases.
“So what’s with the chickens?” Now that they were in the air the colonel was almost chatty. In answer Laura swung out on her harness and kicked the large switch on the accelerator’s control panel.
Several readouts blinked into life, and the deep thrum of the engines was joined by a higher-pitched buzz from the equipment that rose through weird harmonics and settled on a pitch that tore at the mind. Segmented shielding peeled back until the hard-boiled eggs in the launch chamber were visible through amber layers of polarized glass.
“An egg is about the right size and shape for the accelerator rails!” Laura shouted over the rising noise. “Plus we can experiment with organic composition with a view to future human propulsion!”
“So that’s why the chicken feed is weird? You’re experimenting on the eggs?”
She nodded, eliding a thousand hours of research into shell composition, dietary additives, and what it took to turn a few ounces of protein in a carbonate sheath into a viable railgun projectile.
The biology and physics was the easy bit. The rest, long hours with antique ship’s logbooks and ancient coastal maps, had been gruelling. Unlike her tribal historian mother, Laura didn’t have the right mind for humanities research. But there were other ways to serve, and the window was here.
Ignoring the colonel for the moment, she spoke softly into the two-way radio that allowed for communication with the pilot. “Ten degrees on my count. Three, two, one, mark.”
The tail of the vast transport aircraft slewed round through the air. Surrounded by a blue nimbus of plasma, three eggs screamed down the accelerator’s rails, skidding through time. All of them vanished before hitting the six-inch thick ceramic shield that stood between the accelerator track and the plane’s rear bulkhead.
Ten seconds later and five centuries before, the small fleet of arriving Spanish ships sank without a trace.
PROMPT: A scientist invents time-travel but can only send boiled eggs through time