The Cobbler and his Turnips

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It was the girl again, poking her head around the potting shed door. Just as well that Ken had managed to fix her precious shoes before he’d gone to feed the tomatoes.
‘Hiya, Mr Narwhal.’
‘Ah, Lily. Your shoes.’ He gestured towards the bench. ‘All set.’
‘Gee, thanks.’ She picked them up and had a good nosey. A customer is entitled to inspect the goods.
‘Your Dad will settle the credits later. Don’t worry about that.’
‘Ok.’ She retreated toward the door, then paused.
‘Is there anything else?’
‘It’s nothing really, but-’
‘Well, we were doing some history the other day. Tech history. And we saw these images of the QE comms device.’
‘Oh.’ Ken looked to the ground.
‘And I thought I saw something like that here. Yesterday. On your bench.’ She pointed a pink-polished nail at where, indeed, he’d had the device yesterday.
‘And I was wondering if, maybe, you were working on it? Trying to set up a comms link with Earth. ‘Cause it would be amazing to talk to Earth again. Wouldn’t it?’
Ken shook his head in answer to her expectant eyes. Poor kid, born into this. He felt, once again, the responsibility, the guilt of bringing children into this limited, ship-bound life. It would be unfair to give her any hope. And yet, what else could she look forward to? She’d very little chance of living long enough to reach Terabithia. And even if she did, what use would a ninety-something-year-old have for a planet’s worth of space?
He smiled. ‘I’m an old fool, Lily, but I still have a scrap of enthusiasm. And I wasn’t always a cobbler. Or a horticulturalist. You’re right, it’s supposed to be a quantum entangled device. It doesn’t work though.’
‘Oh.’ Her pretty face crumpled. Teenagers were no good at hiding their disappointment. ‘Well, can I see it anyway? Please?’
‘I remind you that it doesn’t work. And don’t you have to get back to school?’
‘Not for a while yet.’
‘Alright then. If you promise not to tell anyone. I tried tinkering with this before, years ago, and it didn’t work. I wouldn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up.’
Or have anyone laugh at me.
‘Ok.’ She took a step forward.
Ken nodded and dragged out the old wooden box.
‘So,’ she said, ‘have you a new idea now, on how to get it working?’
‘Not exactly.’ Ken paused. He couldn’t possibly tell her the real reason. ‘I’m getting old. Might not be here much longer. Thought I’d give it one last go.’
And maybe he’d get a chance to say a proper goodbye to the one he’d left behind. Sure, he’d done his duty as a coloniser, took a wife and had his two replacement kids. But he’d never forgotten her.
‘Uh huh.’ She nodded. ‘It would be so amazing to get news from Earth, some new vids. I’m sick of the old ones.’
‘Yeah.’ Me too. And I have years on you, girl.
‘And I want to be a singer. How cool would it be to give concerts to Earth, from the stars!’
‘Huh.’ She was a dreamer alright.
He eased the device onto the workbench between them, the distinctive rainbow-hued crystal housing held centrally by delicate filaments. Lily bent over it, peering intently.
‘Careful not to touch the glass,’ he said. ‘Any residue from your fingers would impair the surface conductivity.’
‘Sure. This is the anchor point, yeah?’
‘Indeed. To have any chance of working, the tube has to be fixed to a solid, inert mass, like the granite plinth here.’
‘Can we see the crystal?’
‘No, it’s too small. You can see its poly-chromic housing. There.’
‘Shiny.’ Her brows knitted in concentration. ‘Hang on. Doesn’t there have to be two devices? A separated pair of quantum-entangled crystals?’
‘Well now. Haven’t you been paying attention?’
She shrugged. ‘It’s interesting. And important.’
‘Indeed. I keep my other device over by the root vegetables, in a yellow storage box.’
‘The one beside the turnips?’
‘Yes. So when I activate the magneto alignment field, here.’ He indicated the switch. ‘The housing evaporates and the crystal is suspended in the middle of the tube. When it’s in that state, it should share characteristics with its twin.’
‘Over by the turnips.’
‘That’s right.’
‘And, so far?’
‘But you’re gonna get it to work?’
‘There are only two possibilities: yes or no.’
Ken scratched his chin. ‘The setup worked fine back on Earth. Went through lots of testing. When we left, we all took it for granted, to still be able to talk to our families, and get updates from mission control. It was one helluva shock when it stopped that day.’
‘And nothing since.’
‘Silence. Cold, stony silence.’
Lily tilted her head down to the level of the bench. ‘It’s like we stepped out of the bubble that the crystals could keep in touch, like there was some limit at that point.’
‘About 2 light years from Earth, we were.’
‘Oh yeah?’ Now he caught her eye.
She smirked. ‘It’s an important number, to do with the characteristics of the crystal. Like the inverse of its natural frequency?’
Ken’s nose wrinkled. ‘I’ve never heard it put that way before.’
‘It’s just how I remember it, from what teacher said. And it kinda made sense to me.’
‘Yeah, it does.’
‘Shame that they didn’t realise the limitation before they sent us off, eh?’
‘Hmm.’ Ken’s brain was travelling down a new path. Something about the natural frequency of the crystal.
‘They could have found a better crystal, with a higher frequency, maybe. But now we’re stuck with whatever one we brought, that’s twinned with the one back on Earth.’
‘Well, thanks for showing me, Mr Narwhal.’
‘And thanks for the shoes.’
‘That too. Of course.’
Ken gave her an absentminded wave as she turned about and left. He needed to get hold of the full specs. He had an idea.

About the Author: 
Nell grew up on a mixed diet of Star Trek, Jane Austen and Anne McCaffrey, leading to a doctorate degree in Solar Astrophysics at the University of Glasgow. Now she models the national electricity grid. She loves to throw her characters into her space operas to see how they dance.