Tau Zero

Poul Anderson


The Leonora Christine was the latest in Earth's fleet of bussard ramjet starships. Aimed at Beta Virginis with fifty of Earth's best aboard, she would be gone for at least fifty of Earth's years.

As the ship slowly increased her velocity the crew and passengers adjusted to life aboard the starship. Gradually those aboard the Leonora Christine grew ever more isolated from the universe outside as their velocity reached an appreciable value of light and the dilation factors became noticeable.

But disaster struck in the depths of space. An uncharted dust cloud sent a damaging surge through the Leonora Christine's engines. When the crew had had a chance to look at the damage, they found that it was impossible to stop the ship. Nor could they just turn off the ship's power plant to get access to the damaged unit, for their speed was such that they would have fried in the storm of particles that would reach the unprotected ship.

Abandoning hope of reaching their planned destination, the crew prepared for a high speed run through the central nucleus of the Galaxy to give them enough acceleration to pass through intergalactic space*.

However, luck is not with them and even intergalactic space is too dense to be safe at their current speed and they are forced to run for interclan space, accelerating ever faster leaving their Earth ever further behind.

Once their engines are repaired, they find that they are going too fast to stop in any of the visible clan groups.

In order to improve their chance, the Leonora Christine is accelerated even closer to the light speed barrier but nothing capable of halting this high tech band of Flying Dutchmen could be found and as the very nature of space began changing round them, they realise that they were coming up against the ultimate barrier...

Was there any purpose to hope now, as the Universe itself collapsed around them?

This is a Gollancz Classic Science Fiction edition.

If you have Excel 97 or better, this spreadsheet will allow you to play with the relativistic factors.

*This was written before the discovery (or at least the proof) that the centre of the Galaxy is a Blackhole.

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