The matte funnel-shaped device sat dead out in front of the ship while it’s backdrop of stars spun around and around. The ship was spinning up for jump gyro-stabilisation. Putting the spin on the ship was the only way of keeping the course at FTL speed reasonably straight. The slightest discrepancy in mass had lead to the early Hoppers being flung wildly off their path, tumbling and tearing themselves apart. It was far more reliable to rifle the ship for handling the unpredictable gravitational eddies that buffeted the ships protective field as it hit midpoint.
The rest of the crew had all headed off to their duty stations now, or secured themselves for flight. A few hours ago the observation deck had been packed in nervous silence as the updates had trickled over the intercom. People were attentive as one of the Pinches had been unloaded from the rack, and watched with silent fear as it had been fuelled up with antimatter. The SS Boseman had been lost that way; a slight fluctuation in the magnetic containment of the transfer line. A single atom tearing the line open, obliterating the ship. The “Black Bit” quantum-entanglement data feed told mission control everything.
At one point the ensign had halted his words for a second, and the whole room had bodily stiffened to a fearful acceptance that death was an instant away.
But now it was out there. In a few minutes time the antimatter would annihilate with it’s matter half, destroying the intensely charged field coils and creating a precisely focussed funnel of gravitational energy, pulling two distant points in space together for a few seconds.
Hundreds of sensors had us placed to within fractions of a millimetre of our set distance from the Pinch device. Close enough to be pulled into the correct portion of the gradient, far enough away not to be destroyed by the radiation blast or it’s monatomic debris. If the dispersing field around the ship didn’t fail, it would still overload at the other end, with the rhythmic popping of capacitor banks being jettisoned before they too exploded. And with luck we would find ourselves within 5 Au of our destination, still with enough time to correct for insertion into the target star-system. If not, then we’d have to pick another system and try another Hop. These things don’t work for short journeys yet.
Hopping so far in an instant only to spend the following couple of years coasting on the final leg seems an insult to some. Trust me that you need that rest to regain your witts. But it’s still a better option than spending an extra 70 years coming the scenic route, or arriving too close to correct your delta-V and passing right past your target.
The blast shields are closing. Next the forward 30 decks will be evacuated of personnel and air. The magic time’s coming up fast now. Wish us luck!