Madazine : Speed Limit
After a spell of inactivity, described by some of his critics as merciful, the Yorkshire engineer and inventor Kevin Spout has once more attracted a good deal of attention by carrying out another of his spectacular experiments. It took place at three o’clock yesterday afternoon in a church hall close to Kevin’s Sheffield home. This time, the redoubtable pioneer was dealing with an aspect of Albert Einstein’s work.
Addressing an invited audience of scientists and technical experts from the press, Kevin explained his thinking. “I have long been convinced,” he said, “that the father of relativity was in error in one particular way. Most of his equations were correct, but I take issue with him about the way he maintained that no material object can reach the speed of light because as it moves towards that velocity its mass increases, as does the force required to propel it, to the extent that both would need to be infinite in order for the object to get to the limit.
“My purpose today is to demonstrate that the assertion concerned is unsound. The machine you see here is designed to prove this point.” Here Kevin waved at his apparatus, which comprised a tube, three inches in diameter, formed into a circular shape, known to the cognoscenti as a torus, about six feet from side to side, set atop a tripod. On the floor, close to this structure was a metal cube with sides of three feet, to the top of which was attached a corrugated hose with a two-inch bore.
Kevin held aloft a spherical object, slightly less in diameter than the tube. He continued: “My experiment is simple and will take only a few minutes. This ball and the torus are made of an alloy I produced recently. It is totally resistant to heat and pressure. I hope I am not being immodest in calling it kevinite. You will note that the torus has a raised seam at one side and a cap at the opposite one, and that there is a meter fitted to the cap. The seam is hinged to allow me to insert the ball into the torus, while removing the cap will enable me to connect this cube on my right to the torus, by means of the hose, which is also impervious to temperature and any other type of stress. Both hinge and cap are designed to withstand all phases of the operation.
“The meter is graduated in rising percentages of the letter ‘c’, which as you know denotes the velocity of light. The torus is coated inside with another special material I have developed over the last few months. The cube is merely a housing for a device of my own design. It works in a similar way to compressed air but is vastly more efficient and powerful than any appliance of that kind.”
Kevin placed his ball in the torus and refastened the hinge. He then connected the cube. “Now,” he said, “we are ready to start. I shall switch on the thruster and the ball will be forced to follow a circular path, continuously gathering speed, thanks to the unique lubricating properties of the substance with which I have, as I said, coated the inside of the torus, and to the immense power of the super-propellant released from the tank. Now, off we go to a speed in excess of ‘c’.”
Kevin pressed the starter and the experts watched with bated breath as a combination of whirring and rumbling indicated that the test was proceeding. The prediction that it would not take long proved to be correct. After about three minutes the torus started vibrating and the hinged seam began to take on a red glow. A further minute passed, then there came what sounded like a thunderclap, the tripod collapsed, the torus fell unevenly, the seam burst open and the ball was emitted on a rising trajectory with a force that hurled it through one of the hall’s windows. It continued onwards and upwards, smashing straight through the church tower, breaking the east and west clock faces and narrowly missing the timekeeping mechanism. A collision with the headstone of a grave in the churchyard finally halted it.
As is his custom when his experiments fail – and so far they have always done so – Kevin immediately held an inquest. This time he was able to report his findings within half an hour. The shaken spectators were still present. “Happily the explanation for this mishap is very simple,” he said. “I was assisted by my cousin Donald, who has hamp . . . er . . . helped me on several earlier occasions. The problem arose at the raised seam, which was supposed to be sealed to the torus by use of a quick-setting liquid variant of kevinite. I supplied Donald with a tube of this, in order for him to complete the construction. When it came to the sealing operation, he reached into his toolbag and instead of drawing from it the kevinite, he selected a tube of ordinary household glue, which of course was inadequate for the purpose in question. This a mere technicality that can be rectified easily.
“I was not able to take an accurate reading of the ball’s speed when it left the torus, but it is quite clear from the way it went through the clock that it was moving at a high percentage of the velocity of light. I shall overhaul and reassemble my equipment and if you would care to reconvene here at the same time tomorrow, I am sure you will witness what you should have seen today. Meantime I shall, among other things, make restitution to the church.”
Madazine editor’s note: Our science correspondent, Axel Griess, once more back from rehab after another lengthy bottle battle, was among the onlookers, though he had recently sworn that he would not attend any more of Kevin’s demonstrations. His verdict, given to reporters in pub near the church, was scathing. “The affair went much as I had expected,” he said. “I imagine all the other observers are as grateful as I am to have survived another of Mr Spout’s attempts at mass homicide. As between him and his assistant, it is hard to say who is the greater fool. Donald’s involvement keeps wrecking his cousin’s experiments, yet Spout continues to employ this dangerous buffoon. I suppose we cannot prevent a further fiasco tomorrow, but wild horses would not drag me back to that place to see it. I am consoled by the thought that making good the damage he has caused to the church will probably deplete the resources of this menace to society sufficiently for him to refrain for a while from endangering anyone with further displays of his ineptitude.”
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