23 March 2012

"Bridge and Tunnel"

By Curtis C. Chen

They both heard the news at the same time, but they reacted differently.

Jantenava jumped up, grabbed her commlink, and went into the bathroom. Richard stayed in bed—he was light-years away from his own people, and the bridge wouldn't open for another hour—and watched the rest of the report on the hotel room holoscreen.

When the news switched to another story, Richard muted the screen and listened to Jantenava's muffled voice through the bathroom door. He couldn't make out what she was saying, but he could tell she was tense.

The door opened and Jantenava emerged, wearing a robe. She dropped her commlink on the desk, then sat down next to Richard.

"I had to check in with my office," she said. "The news always gets something wrong."

"And?" Richard asked.

"Steiner-Wagner solved the rolling horizon problem." Jantenava stared at the screen, her eyes unfocused. "They just released all their test data, and they're setting up a public demonstration in two days."

"So." Richard watched her finger tap an uneven rhythm on the blanket. "Faster-than-light spacecraft."


"I guess you're going back to work today."

Jantenava turned off the screen. "We're both going to be pretty busy." She stood up and went to the closet.

"So that's it?" Richard asked.

Jantenava gave him a blank look. "What?"

Richard stood up, wrapping a blanket around his midsection. "You and me. Us. This."

"You'll have to be more specific."

Had her eyes always been so dark? "Do we have a future together, Jan?"

She fidgeted with her clothes. "These energy administration meetings might still continue."

"Nobody will want to use an interplanetary bridge that only opens twice a day when they can hop on an FTL ship at any time."

"They won't be cheap," Jantenava said. "And both our planets will keep using the bridge for cargo transport—"

"It's only a matter of time. Spacecraft are more versatile, and they don't draw power from the planetary grid. The bridge is already obsolete." Richard suddenly felt cold. "So what happens to us?"

"What do you want me to say? I don't have an answer for you, Richard. I didn't want this to end." She gestured around the hotel room. "But maybe this is all we ever had."

"You don't believe that."

"What else can it be?" Jantenava shook her head. "Neither of us is going to quit our jobs. Managing the bridge was a nice excuse for us to get together, but we have other responsibilities. You've got the microwave net coming online next month. I'm overseeing a dozen different solar projects."

"We can figure it out." Richard put a hand on her shoulder. "Just tell me you want to make this work."

Jantenava looked at him with sad eyes. "I don't know." She pulled her clothes out of the closet. "We both need some time to think."

She went back into the bathroom and closed the door. Richard looked around the well-appointed room. He stood there for a moment, cold and alone, then slowly started getting dressed.


Image: Wormhole to Pudong; Shanghai, December, 2011