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The greatest prize, though, would be the chance to truly open up space. Travelling around the solar system is fraught with danger and a very slow affair, even with modern developments in technology. A stasis bubble would solve both problems. Set your course, engage the bubble and when it disengages an instant later, from your point of view, you would be safely at your destination. The solar system would just be the beginning, though. Flight to another star would be instantaneous, from the point of view of those on board. Hundreds or thousands of years would pass in a heartbeat. One moment the colonists would be leaving Earth behind, the next they would be gazing down on a planet in a totally different system.
So the prize couldn’t be bigger, and all the signs pointed to one of the big companies winning the race sometime soon. What no one expected was for Professor Mike Jeffers to win the race. His team was much smaller than most, with a shoestring budget. Seeing that others were so close pushed Dr Jeffers to try something no others had tried. Where everyone else used automated controls, Dr Jeffers placed himself at the heart of his experiment.
It was an approach that paid off immediately, though all the theories say it should have made no difference. When the stasis bubble was engaged he was frozen in time, unable to do anything. When it wasn’t engaged there was nothing he could do that couldn’t be done as well by remote controls. He claimed experiencing stasis gave him a better feel for what was needed, and the results backed him up. Within an hour he had stasis lasting for two seconds. Full stasis, not the fakery every other experiment had demonstrated. After three hours he’d managed seven seconds. Dr Jeffers and his team were ecstatic. They were so close they could taste it.
The problem lay in how the stasis bubble was created. Once created no time passed within most of the bubble, but time was still passing both at the interface and a short way into the bubble. That caused an instability which led to the whole bubble collapsing. Dr Jeffers and his team were focusing on resolving that instability. If they succeeded then they would be the first to demonstrate stable stasis. They would be famous, not to mention rich. It was a heady mixture which pushed them onwards.
They tweaked the parameters one more time. Dr Jeffers proclaimed himself happy with the changes and the countdown started. At two seconds the bubble started to shimmer into existence. At one second it was almost solid. At zero it was complete, an absolutely reflective sphere hiding the machine and Dr Jeffers from both sight and time.
The team held their breath as the seconds started to tick past. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. By the time it hit ten their hearts were hammering. At twenty seconds they started to cheer. At one minute they were jubilant. At two they were ecstatic. The test was set to last for fifteen minutes. That had seemed an impossibly long time. Now they started to wonder if they might actually reach that target. Even if they didn’t they knew they were on the right track.
Hell, stasis for just two minutes had a huge range of applications. It wasn’t the big goal at the end but they were already guaranteed fame and fortune. And still the minutes kept ticking past. Five. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen.
Someone pointed out that the only member of the team who didn’t know how successful they had been was Dr Jeffers himself. They quickly agreed to hide their enthusiasm, to let him emerge from stasis to a subdued room… for a few seconds. Then they would let him in on the secret. The seconds ticked down and, finally, the timer reached fifteen minutes. Everyone watched for the stasis bubble starting to dissolve.
But it didn’t. The seconds kept on ticking by and the stasis bubble remained stubbornly in place. Seconds stretched to minutes. The jubilant mood was soon replaced by puzzlement. Then by confusion. By twenty minutes it was clear something was very wrong. By forty worry had set in. After an hour they hit the panic button, reaching out to other teams for help.
Over the next few days many ideas were tried, from lasers to magnets, but none worked. The stasis field was perfect. Nothing could penetrate it. Nothing.
Everyone was asking what had gone wrong, but it was so fundamental that it took days for anyone to realise. Theories ranged from faulty equipment to incorrect calculations. The answer, when it came, was shocking in its simplicity. The stasis field was set to last for just fifteen minutes, but the equipment to control the field was within the stasis field, where no time was passing. For the equipment fifteen minutes hadn’t passed. Fifteen minutes would never pass. The stasis field was perfect, and that meant it would last forever.
It was shockingly obvious yet none of the teams working on stasis had considered it. Each had been too busy worrying about extending the time the field lasted to fully think about how it would be turned off. None had expected to reach full stasis without going through hundreds or thousands of intermediate steps. Dr Jeffers’ brilliance had bypassed those steps, but his and his team’s thinking hadn’t caught up.
In the months that followed the focus of stasis research changed. Dr Jeffers’ team got the fame and fortune they had dreamed of. Their research, well, Dr Jeffers research, formed the basis of all future progress. Now, though, the focus wasn’t on lengthening stasis. It was on shortening it. On introducing misalignments that would cause the stasis bubble to collapse after a fixed length of time.
The stasis revolution arrived, if not from the direction that had been planned. Mankind spread out among the stars. Stasis bubbles performed far beyond their expectations, even withstanding the blast from a supernova at point blank range. Technology advanced in a million different ways. Humans evolved beyond their bodies and eventually beyond the physical universe. Eventually, untold billions of years later, the universe died. The predicted heat death where every shred of energy was gone. What mankind had become watched from… beyond.
Eventually there was no trace of what had come before, no trace of the universe that had given birth to those transcendent beings. No trace? Well, almost no trace. One tiny piece of the universe persists, and will always persist. One tiny fragment wrapped in a stasis bubble. Dr Jeffer’s stasis bubble. It’s no longer reflective, because there is nothing to reflect. It exists within nothingness far beyond any mere vacuum, but exist it does. The beings watch over it still, but even they cannot penetrate the bubble.
Even if they could, there would be nothing for Dr Jeffers to return to. His body and the equipment would explode, spreading amongst the nothingness. So Dr Jeffers lives on, as he always will. He would probably be amused to know that in the end he was the only one to ever achieve perfect stasis but, of course, he will never know.