by Peter Gilbert
Chief Engineer Wertz broke the news to Captain Devlin as he played tennis in gym room. A panorama of stars glistened on the other side of the port window.
“The Nothing drive is failing.”
“What’s the problem?” Devlin asked.
“We’re running out of nothing.”
“How can we run out of nothing?”
The Chief Engineer shrugged his shoulders, “Everything runs out eventually.”
Captain Devlin squinted, “Even nothingness?”
“I’m an engineer,” Wertz said. “Not a physicist. All I can tell you us there’s no leak.”
“I thought the advantage of Nothing Drive was that it ran on nothing? Made for great savings on fuel costs.”
“Nothing is free,” Wertz explained.
“Precisely,” said the Captain. “Endless supplies of fuel at no cost.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Wertz explained. “Nothing, not even nothing, is free.”
“What?” the Captain asked. He sounded confused because he was. “You mean you have to pay for nothing?”
“Happens all the time.”
“That’s absurd. Why should we have to pay for nothing?”
“That gives me an idea,” Wertz said scratching his nose. “Have you ever paid for Nothing?”
“Of course not,” said Devlin. “You get Nothing for nothing.”
“When is the last time you filled the tanks?” Wertz inquired.
“Never,” said Captain Devlin. “The ship runs on nothing. That’s why I bought it. The initial cost was high, but when I calculated the long term savings, I saw it was a steal. Why would I fill the tanks? You can’t put nothing in a tank. You would have to put something. If you put something in, then there would no longer be nothing in the tank. If I had to put something in a tank I would have bought one of those old fashioned ships that ran on Martian hydrogen peroxide.”
“Cheap Martina fuel has run out,” Wertz said. “You have to pay dear for what’s left.’
“Listen,” Wertz added,. “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing. I think that’s your problem.”
Devlin put his pinky in his ear to see if any of Wertz’s words had gotten stuck in there and not made it through the canal to his brain.
Wertz explained, “You have been running on empty for so long that there’s nothing left to go on.”
“You mean there’s nothing left in the tanks?” Devlin huffed, his eyes bulging in shock.
“If there was, we’d be fine,” Wertz said. “But there’s precious little Nothing there.”
“What is there?” Devlin asked.
“Isn’t void nothing?”
“No,” Wertz shook his head. “They’re nothing like each other.
“Well, Devlin said, “I don’t understand the mechanics of it, but if you say it is so, then I guess we need to find more Nothing. Where can we get Nothing?”
“I’m not sure,” Wertz said. He crossed his arms and pondered the question. “There are lots of places that sell Nothing in particular, but we have to be careful we don’t buy Nothing of value. That could get quite expensive.”
“Do we have enough Nothing in the tank to get to a planet or space station that sells Nothing cheap?”
“We might be able to find a place near Alpha Centuri if you have nothing else to do.”
“I don’t want to get stuck in this vast nothing between the stars,” Captain Devlin said grimly. “I think filling up on Nothing is a priority.”
“We will have to go slow to conserve fuel,” Wertz told him.
Devlin asked, “How long will it take to get there?”
Devlin was not happy with that answer.
“Can’t we get there any faster?”
“There’s nothing I can do about it,” Wertz said. “It’s go slow or no go.”
“I guess we can go into hibernation,” Devlin concluded.
Wertz agreed. “I’ll prep the slumber chambers.”
Devlin had a concern.
“Do we have enough for the crew?”
The Chief Engineer did some fast calculations in his head, and then announced, “We will have to double up.”
“Then I guess for the next ten decades someone will be whispering sweet nothings in my ear.”
“I wish they were doing that now,” Wertz said. “It could save us a trip.”