Nobody thinks about how it’s done anymore. I’m out on the line for twelve hours. I’m tired, I’m beat. I’m in The Suit, and it’s charged up and buzzing in my ears. I can feel the energy crawling on every inch of my skin. Like a bunch angry ants pouring out of a nest that some kid kicked over for fun. I’m about to kick over my own nest by firing an Xray laser into the cookie.
The cookie. That’s what we call the atomic cocktail that the orbital factory spits out about once a month. Let me tell you, it’s big. It’s a roundish blob about three kilometers in diameter. That’s the target.
I’m in the suit, so every thing is harder to do. I’m nervous as hell working with enough energy to destroy a planet. That’s why they have us so far out in space. The sweat is mingling with the ants, and it’s just amplifying the effect. I’m twitchier than normal this time, and my hands don’t feel secure on the controls. I triple blink my eyes. The helmet fan comes on and I get some relief from the sweat dripping into my eyes. I can feel it evaporating away.
I concentrate on the controls and watch the power levels on the laser. I’m in the specially shielded part of the ship, in my suit, got it blaring full power, and hoping to God that it’s enough to keep the radiation from frying me up. It hasn’t yet, but sometimes the reaction isn’t as accurate as the math. There’s still some unknown variable, but that doesn’t stop the line. The holes still have to be made for the ships because that’s what makes them go. That’s what takes humans out to the stars.
The power levels look good. The distance is locked; the ship’s retros have stabilized us exactly eight kilometers away. The “safe” distance. It never feels safe, because I know too much. It was better when I was stupid.
When they first figured out they could make molecular sized black holes with a laser, it went completely unnoticed by the media. It was just a scientific curiosity, lasting only thirty femtoseconds – millionths of a billionth of a second. That was because after it stripped all the electrons from every neighboring atom in the targeted molecule, it didn’t have anything else to feed it. But given the right fuel and conditions, it could grow into a tiny hungry monster. The three kilometer ball in front of me would shrink into an invisible sphere the diameter of a human hair, and keep on sucking in everything around it.
I flip up the safety cover on the firing switch, wait a second, check the vitals, and then turn the switch. The ship vibrates with the released energy. Then there’s a bright spot on the cookie. The tiny molecular sized hole has been made in the middle of that blob. The focal point of the laser is set for the center of the mass. It takes a bit for the beam to burn through, but when it does, the hole gets made right in the center of the cookie. That’s the only way it works, and why everything has to be so precise.
The coral started it all. Those little sea organisms that became living reefs visible from space. In our technological race to learn and grow we’d heated the oceans just enough to kill them all off. That had created a cascading die-off of other lifeforms, up to, and including humans. As food sources from the sea became scarcer, and the ecology collapsed from climate change and pollution, it became critical that we find another earth. Some way to insure that our species would survive and not become a casualty of the damage we’d caused.
It happens fast, like an explosion in reverse, as the cookie collapses in on itself. A flash goes outward like a blast. All that energy has to go somewhere. It smacks me in the face, washing over my ship, and overloading everything. A split second before it hits, my ship goes dark, protecting itself by turning everything off, grounding every circuit together to prevent burnouts. The only thing left running is the tiny nuclear power plant in my suit. It keeps the angry ants crawling over me, the electomagnetic shield and the water in the thick walls of the room I’m in are the only things keeping me alive right now. The only things keeping my cells from being torn apart by subatomic particles.
I give it the standard delay, as the glow dissipates out there where the cookie used to be. By the time five minutes is up, the glow is gone and it’s pitch black. Then the ship comes back to life. The lights and instruments boot up, and I turn off The Suit. The crawling ceases, and it feels great. I take off the helmet and head for the bridge.
The bridge is just like I left it, four seats for crew members are empty and I take the one for the pilot. I fire up the thrusters and guide the ship toward something I can’t see on the cameras. The only thing that’s guiding me is the highly tuned gravity sensors. A three dimensional map of the space being warped in front of the ship. There’s a tiny black hole punching a dent in spacetime only eight kilometers away. I move forward slowly and the distance shrinks until it’s just meters. Then I fire up the fields and guide the ship so that the big magnetic hand slips right around the hole and closes it in. The fields bring it into the core of the ship, or rather drag us so that we’re centered on it. The ship’s mass is dwarfed by the little monster.
I activate the parabolic reflector in the core and it slips around the front half of the hole. The hawking radiation gets bounced out toward the rear of the ship and we start to move. Slowly at first, then rapidly accelerating toward the docks. Another starship is born.