16: Brainbox (part 1)

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16.1 Shift

Conradville, the Moon: 1-8 February 2121

"It's blue shifted," Andrew March announced.

"What?" Janet replied. Across the room Melissa looked up from what she was doing – it should have been homework but probably wasn't.

"The Paradise lander," he added. Janet came and peered over his shoulder at his calculations.

She was joined by Melissa who said, "What's our resident brainbox figured out now?"

Andrew had been offered a part-time internment with Earth Analysis arm of the LSA – or LSA:EA. That department, created three years previously by Miguel Romero, had head-hunted Janet to lead it. She had little trouble creating Andrew's internment post, even though he was still officially at school.

A week ago she had shown him the logs and data recorded by the Gaia II probe that had dropped landers on Robot World and Paradise ten years previously. She wondered if he could make anything out of the garbled mess that had been picked up. She hadn't expected him to actually find anything significant, let alone so soon.

"What do you mean 'blue-shifted'?"

Andy pulled up two spectral diagrams on the holographic display. They were identical at first sight.

"That's the sun, isn't it?" Melissa said.

"Yes, but the top one is as recorded by the Paradise lander and the second is as we see it."

"They're the same," Janet said.

"Not quite," Andrew grinned. He ramped up the magnification until the black absorption lines in the two diagrams fell out of synchronisation. "See, the Paradise one is blue shifted by a fraction."

"What does it mean?" Melissa asked.

"Also, I found this." He pulled up the log of the broken communication between the Gaia probe and the lander. There were several threads – some synchronous, others asynchronous. The former relied on fixed atomic clocks that were synchronised between the probe and lander. "See here, here and here," Andrew said, pointing out three instances at around forty second intervals. "The lander has got out of sync – which is impossible, unless Paradise isn't running at quite the same speed as the probe."

Janet frowned and checked the maths. The lander had lasted only five minutes but, before it had completely broken down, it had reported an increasing number of errors and problems with its circuitry. She and some of the other engineers had assumed that the glitches Andrew pointed out had been part of those malfunctions. Maybe he was onto something.

"If you take the points where communication restarted after resynchronisation then you get the same amount of shift as seen in the sun's spectrum."

"Yes, but what does it actually mean," Melissa persisted.

"It means that Paradise is running fast."

Janet paused to consider the implications before adding, "How can it? Each alternate is aligned with the previous one viewed when a wave passes over."

"No, not quite," he said. "There is often a slight discrepancy – I remember noticing it when I first saw Paradise from the dome. There was often an east-west glitch."

"How can you prove it?"

"Maybe if we can get enough accurate start-end views for each wave, we might be able to measure the amount of rotation to see if it is any different to what it should be."

After another pause, Janet said, "I'll see what I can do."

"Got it, Janet," Andrew beamed a few days later."

"Got what?"

"Nearly two seconds. Paradise is taking about one point nine seconds less each day to rotate compared to Black Earth."

"But they are still synchronised," Janet frowned.

"Only as we see them."

"Eh?" Janet shook her head. This was too weird even for her. How could two apparently synchronised alternates be rotating at different speeds?

Janet contacted a handful of LSA engineers who sceptically analysed Andy's figures.

But Andrew was proved correct – Paradise rotated slightly faster than expected, which caused some to speculate about the other versions. More readings were taken which corroborated the results and the analysis was extended. Green Earth also appeared to run fast, though not by the same degree while Robot World appeared slowed by a small amount. It was a surprise that Black Earth wasn't dead on the expected speed but fractionally shifted as well but only by about a tenth of a second.

It was a strange anomaly but no one had any real idea what any of it meant.

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