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Originally released on DeviantArt
The initial probe had been dubbed Hyper One, the first successful test of a hyperspace tunneling engine: launched on a Paludis III twelve years ago, it had made its ponderous way to the Lagrange point sixty degrees ahead of the Earth in its orbit, taking a few months to get to its testing position. When the drive was spun up, it flicked across to somewhere in the vicinity of L4, sixty degrees behind Earth, in half a second. The tunneling engine was a miracle of high-speed space travel, but Hyper One and two subsequent probes had only carried bacterial or other small samples.
Hyper Four would be the first test of a hyperspace tunneling engine with humans on board. The engine had been retrofitted to one of SpaceX's old service capsules: with their Mars cycler fully up and running as of a few years ago, their stocks of Dragon capsules were simply taking up space and any use for them was encouraged. Life support and environmental controls were still working perfectly in this particular capsule: in its previous job as fifth (and seventh) crew service mission to the Space Station, it had encountered no issues except for a harder-than-usual ocean landing on the second use. That made it a fairly cheap capsule for the Hyper team to pick up.
James Kent, veteran of the Hyper series, had been voluntold as the crew member for this fourth mission: Dragon had made its way out under its own steam, and was now parked in orbit around the Earth-Moon system's L2 point: that helped to simplify the calculations by removing nearby gravitational influences, while still being visible from Earth so the Hyper team could track Four from the ground.
James thought back to the first test of Hyper One, and the astonishment they'd all felt when One had jumped more than 0.2 AU in the blink of an eye. And now he'd be doing the same, looking out the portholes of a capsule at the space below (or was it above?) realspace. To say he was excited was probably understating it.
The radio crackled into life.
"Hyper Four, this is Houston again. Our board is green for spin-up; we're sending you updated hyper-coordinates for the tunneling engine. Please confirm."
"Programmed in," James stated. "Let's do this, over."
"Copy, Hyper Four. Engage when ready."
James flipped a switch over his head, and the carrier signal from Earth immediately redshifted into oblivion. Light flooded in through the capsule's portholes.
Nothing else seemed to happen for a few seconds. Time passed on board Hyper Four, the clock by James's hand ticked by at its normal rate, but the light from outside remained unchanging and constant. Then the radio cracked into life again.
License and registration, please.
"Er, Houston... do you read?"
James didn't see how he could be receiving radio from above (or was it below) the skein of realspace, since the light waves wouldn't make it outside the constraints of untunneled space...
Come on, you can't pop up in the middle of the B6631 and cause disruption to traffic, then plead ignorance. You've been pulled over to the shoulder; your license, please.
"Alright, if this is Guinea base, Funny Joke, guys. I'll have to ask you how you're tunneling radio into the hyperskein when I get back; over."
We're talking at cross-purposes here. Do you have a license, sir?
"I guess I'll play along. No, I guess?"
Oh, you're one of those. Right, well, you may regard your patch of space as sovereign, but if you make use of the federal galactic highways, you'll need to abide by federal law. As you don't have your license, I'm issuing you a summons to Sirius district court: you'll need to appear in-
"Wait, wait, hold on. What do you mean, federal highways? We only just connected to hyperspace, I didn't know that-"
Oh, you're one of those. Right, well. Er, let's see... Firstly, it's infraspace, the interbrane region below realspace, that you're in.
"Clears that one up, I guess..."
Secondly, your tunnel intersected the B6631 galactic highway and has left a hole in lane four. And not a smooth hole, either; your engine is terribly noisy in its hookup to the interbrane.
"Er, right. I wasn't aware that the B6631 ...ran through here. It's not like we have a map..."
Right, yeah, first-contacters, sure. I could've sworn there was a protocol for this... In light of your status, I've rescinded the summons to Sirius-f. Let me go talk to someone, I'll be back.
James was left alone for a few minutes. Or at least, a few minutes passed on board the capsule; who knows what was happening in realspace. This... highways officer? that James had talked with, showed up on the radio again.
Alright, you're free to go. As I mentioned, you've been pulled over to the shoulder of the B6631, and my superiors have authorized me to write a map of the highway network to your support equipment's silicate substrate. Your nearest on-ramp is the core of the planet you refer to as Jupiter; please try not to drill any more holes in our roads.
"Well, thank you. This is... amazing. I just have a couple of questi-"
"How do you speak my language" comes up surprisingly often with first-contacters, my superiors mentioned. Consider that your vehicle is built in realspace, and you're in the interbrane at the present time: all atomic connections are visible to those who can travel directly in the interbrane.
"Right, yes... I guess my only other question is, how do we get to the core of Jupiter to join the highway?"
Surface roads aren't our concern, sir. Your local onramp was constructed some time ago.
"Ok, well, er. Thank you..."
One more thing before I eject you into realspace, sir. I've also written our current emissions regulations into your vehicle's silicate; a vehicle with such noisy tunneling output as yours runs the risk of being impounded, and that's a court appearance that can't be rescinded. Have a good journey.
And the light pouring into the capsule flicked off. The capsule's console screen started spewing text:
Determining position 12 degrees above the orbital plane; reorienting comms Carrier signal obtained Time elapsed since signal loss: 0.48 seconds
"Er, Houston, Hyper Four. Boy, do I have a tale for you."