Unlike our own time, space is forever getting smaller come the age of my book. Such progress is a necessity for writing stories about the stars, and it’s a dream I enjoy to make, besides. Not just that we will one day watch the double sunrise at Alpha Centauri, or see Sirius off the shoulder of Orion, but that we will go ever farther, ever faster, into this almighty chasm of a cosmos in which we find ourselves, transcending limits entirely.
So rather than take our one and only spacefaring civilisation as read, and putter about as though things had always been this way, I’d rather keep the accelerating speed of speed in sight throughout my future history. Not as fast as some have seen, but there, and wholly literal.
The journey to the Pleiades was a big ask for us. Robin and Kingston were old hands with more than that many lightyears already on the clock, but Mina had only been out as far as Barnard’s Star, and I’d never been past Saturn!
Things were moving fast right then. Proteus flew to the Pleiades in the midst of an age of spacefaring discovery. A better space age than ours, to say the least! The horizon was racing away from us as we drew the lines in the sky from star to star, and world to world. Superlight, a crucial technology for going so far, was advancing leaps and bounds with every passing year. What was once beyond our wildest hope was the starting point for the next step, not long later.
Indeed, I’m still to grapple with this sheer acceleration spells for later ships catching up on Proteus while the mission is still in progress. It does take Marie and company more than a decade, after all. I’ll give it some thought, and note that “ships” of any kind we make, now and then, are so small between the stars as to be more than easily lost in unexplored space. Not least when still shackled to lightspeed in one vital part.
In the underlying narrative of a Moore’s Law-like speeding march of progress, Marie’s time is already a relic from the perspective of Alpha’s present. Her admission that she’d never been beyond Saturn, a mere light hour or two away from home, would only ever seem more absurd. Like an astronaut who’s barely left the ground. And yet there she went, on what was ultimately our most significant of all missions. Forgive me if I spend the time I do on telling it, so that my characters themselves don’t have to.
Anyway, what about regular life in 2301? What is the going rate for everyday, mundane space travel by then?
I reckon that you’d have to go out of your way not to jaunt about the solar system quite a bit. The flight to Saturn, its rings and Titan, wouldn’t be much different in scope to a short plane ride today. And Mars would be the simplest of roadtrips, without so much a road as an airlane. Well, I should work out the scale for myself really, but I’m quite sure that Christopher would be fairly well travelled merely by his parents influence. They’re quite involved in all of that, after all. Indeed, they even live in low earth orbit, for tax purposes and my own desired grandstand view!
While riding in Dalmeny, looking out to the Forth, I got an idea. The islands out in the estuary are called the Inches. One of them, Inchmickery, is still dressed in its First World War camoflage as a battleship, to scare submarines off the nearby target of the Forth Bridge and docks. Its gnarly outline is a permanent fixture on the north skyline of town. Seeing it through the woods beside the shore, I realised how close it was in comparison to Fife beyond, and just how small we are on the globe. How about naming a ship after it? And how about that ship being Christopher’s school’s own little runabout?
And so it is. The jolly old Inch Mick is the solar system shuttle of the local school. One with a fancy name and many centuries history already. But I’ll spare you my future plans for my little old alma mater, for now at least.