Tachyonic Antitelephone | Lydia Trethewey

‘What would you do, if you found a loophole in special relativity?’


Tachyonic Antitelephone

By Lydia Trethewey

For the SPACE TRAVEL DIE Award


Unsmiling commuters hurry up and down the narrow passageways of The Warren, dim metal walls pressing close and a pervasive sense of mental lag. They push in conflicting directions through the honeycombing interior of the subterranean lunar hub, bunching and breaking away.

Chara leans against a sidewall, watching. She runs a hand along the metal surface, feels the residue of passing bodies, filtrates of breath and sweat. Eyes narrowed as she scans the crowd, feeling the light pressure of the blade folded along her wrist.

It would be erroneous, she thinks, to assume The Warren is primarily a travel node, a backwater hub for short-haul solar-system flights and interstellar freight. Weaved from commuters and couriers, vendors and locals peddling their wares, a chaotic bazaar spreads through the hollowed cavities of The Warren’s intestinal edifice.

She breathes deeply.

‘I’ve got eyes on Alioth,’ says a voice beside her.

Ere materialises in his characteristic way: without warning, just behind her line of sight.

‘He’s down from the Station, heading towards the intercept point.’

Regular passengers take maglev trains out to surface launch. The Station, in lunasynchronous orbit, is the docking point for heavy freighters.

Chara coughs awkwardly. ‘I had a dream this morning, about the intercept. It was like I was following an inevitable string of events, and yet forming the situation as I went. A half-lucid fabrication. Testing methods of intercept, and in the end I broke protocol and rushed in, just took the package.’

Ere stares out into the crowd.

‘Reality bleeds into the subconscious in strange ways. Don’t let yourself get distracted. Here he comes.’

Alioth is a burly man, muscles likely built from a work-out regimen intended to combat the atrophy of prolonged low-gravity travel. He has a constellation map tattooed on one arm, and clutches the package below his chest: A discrete cardboard box, stamped with a shooting star logo, the curving tail of which forms the letter ‘C’ in ‘Comet Speed’.

‘I’ll cover you,’ Ere whispers, disappearing.

Chara winds her way through the crowd, elbowing disgruntled commuters, eyes locked on Alioth.

All at once she finds her path blocked by a huge, grinning man.

‘Hallo!’ he says, waving his sausage-like fingers .‘I am from Titan come. Orbit Saturn. Name is Kor. You help me find Gate 233?’

A colonial from the middle system, realising that he’s an alien this close to the homeworld.

‘No, sorry, I need to—’

‘People say Titan is no good as Europa. But is better. Europan think they so good. But Jupiter no have rings. Lunar people here, they are nicer than Europan.’

Chara shoves him hard in the gut and surges passed. The colonial lands with a thump amongst rushing legs.

Desperately she scans the crowd. Alioth is nowhere to be seen.

‘Dammit.’

At the edge of her vision, a door closing. She charges towards it, grips the metal before it snaps shut.

Two men stand in the dark room. Alioth is holding the package, midway through the handover. No time to register the recipient’s face. Chara rushes forwards, knife in hand, slamming the mule against the wall.

Without losing momentum she wrenches away the package, flings one arm towards the startled stranger, catching him in the chin.

A dull roar in her ears, she hurtles back into the corridor.

Ere is there, guiding her to a quiet eddy of traffic. The Warren hums around them.

Hidden in the noise, they open the box.

A flat square of metal with exposed circuitry.

‘What is it?’ Chara asks, leaning forward.

‘A prototype signal communicator. Supposedly sends messages faster than the speed of light.’

‘So, a really expensive space-phone?’

Ere looks grave.

‘What would you do, if you found a loophole in special relativity?’

‘Probably use it for espionage. Or war commands. Instant communication across lightyears.’

‘Thing is, faster than light signalling can mess with reality. You could theoretically communicate into the past, altering cause and effect. Called the “Tachyonic Antitelephone Theory.”’

They look down at the signaller. Ere picks it up, eyes glittering.

‘Erebus?’

With a decisive movement he snaps the device in two, throws it into the crowd. It’s crushed to dust in a matter of seconds.


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