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**OCTOBER 8 ^{TH}, 1706 HOURS (1606 HOURS MOUNTAIN TIME)**

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General Tauring eyeballed the microwave’s digital time display. “Two minutes left? What? God dammit, I don’t have all night.” He snatched the box off the counter, swung it up close to his face, and again read the recommended time for the chicken stir-fry. “Five minutes my ass. I’m taking it--”

Motion swiped by on his right eye’s side view. He relaxed his hand’s reach toward the microwave and looked in that direction.

“Sir, my apologies, sir!” Airman Reed had entered the room and was yet holding on to the open door.

“Yes, airman? What is it? I was only trying to have dinner since I haven’t eaten all day.”

“Yes, sir. Again, my apologies. Colonel Stevens is here to see you, sir. And he claims it is very important.”

“Important about what?”

“Uhh…” Airman Reed gawked out the open door a moment and then popped his head back inside. “Sir, Colonel Stevens wants to give you Dr. Maplen’s mathematical hypothesis on the decrease events.”

This actually was important. General Tauring walked away from the microwave, leaving the darn thing to continue its annoying whirling whine. “All right. Let him in.”

Once Airman Reed had left the room and closed the door, General Tauring told Stevens to take a seat, in front of the desk.

The microwave began beeping, the cooking finally done. General Tauring walked over, took out the steaming black tray and removed the plastic wrap. He brought it over to the desk and sat across from Stevens. He forked a chunk of chicken into his mouth, while eying Stevens closely; the man’s skin was paler than usual. “Looks like you’ve seen a ghost, Colonel.” Stevens would have to live with the chew-speaking.

“Yes, sir. I am rather shook up.”

“We were all just down there, minutes earlier, witnessing the fourteenth decrease event of the vehicles. You didn’t look it then.”

“I know, sir. Dr. Maplen, he wasn’t there, like I told you, because he was finishing his hypothesis. Well, I just saw him, in the hallway, and he explained it to me.”

General Tauring forked in a few more mouthfuls. He placed the fork down and wiped his mouth and hands with one of the nearby napkins. “All right, let me hear it.”

“It’s rather bad, sir.” Stevens swallowed noticeably, and a disturbing, unfamiliar expression blemished his mug.

General Tauring crossed his arms and leaned back in the chair. “Colonel, the military is not for the weak. Sum up the main points and let me hear it.”

Stevens inhaled deeply and released his breath shakily. “They’re not shrinking, sir.”

“Who’s not shrinking?”

“The hull people and the hull vehicles, sir. According to Dr. Maplen, they never were.”

“What? So how is that…” General Tauring held out his right arm, suited in his crisp, seam-folded sleeve, and turned it, watching closely. “So how is that a…bad…” A terrible thought ripped through his brain. “Wait a minute. He believes that all of us, the entire world, even…we’re all getting larger?”

“Yes, sir. That’s exactly what he believes.”

Relief flowed within General Tauring. He pushed the chicken stir-fry aside and leaned his arms on the table. “I should have listened to you instead of Hakan. You warned me. A born-again Christian. Trouble with colleagues. And a God-centric belief. Well, of course Maplen would come up with something crazy like this. Relax, Colonel. He has to be wrong.”

But the pale, disturbed expression on Stevens’ face didn’t change one iota. “Sir, I truly hope you’re right.” Stevens lifted the report, held with trembling fingers, and homed in on a few pages. “But from what he explained, and the numbers I’ve seen, and especially, that the speed of light is the ultimate speed limit of the universe…I think he’s…I think that…”

“All right, settle down, Colonel. Give me more details.”

“Yes, sir. Do you remember that for the eighth decrease event, the speed of light in the hull was measured to be about four times ten to the eighth power?”

“Yes, Colonel. And so?”

“Well, Dr. Maplen approximated the speed of light at three for the coefficient, and then set up an equation where three-b equals four, or, in other words, b equals four thirds.”

“And?”

“The C plus-plus program he wrote. He ran it to find similar fractions for all the other differences in the speed of light, between our realm and the hull realm, from the first decrease event until the thirteenth, having integer multiples of four thirds. And, it found one, sir, based on 128 for the numerator, and 124 for the denominator for the first decrease event, and 128 for the numerator but 120 for the denominator for the second decrease event, and then 128 for the numerator but 116 for the denominator for the third decrease event, and--”

General Tauring put up his palm. “Stop. I get it. The denominator originally started at 128 before any of this occurred, but then decreased by four for each decrease event. So, he found a pattern. Big deal. How does this prove we’re increasing in size?”

“Well, sir, if this continues, at this same rate, there will be a total of thirty-one decrease events, with the last one, well, the fraction will be 128 over zero. That’s impossible, sir. It’s undefined.”

“I know, Colonel. I’ve had plenty of math classes.”

“And these are intelligent beings behind the hull. So, Dr. Maplen switched it around, so that the hull people’s speed of light never changed, and only ours did. And the fraction pattern, it’s reversed, with 128 constant for the denominator, but the numerator decreasing by four for each decrease event.”

“And so the last decrease event, in this case, would be zero over 128. Am I getting it?”

“Yes, sir. Which is just zero.”

“All right, four thoughts, Colonel. One. Maplen’s math and C plus-plus program could be full of errors.”

“Sir, if I may.”

General Tauring sighed. “Sure, go ahead. I’m only on a train of thoughts here.”

“My apologies, sir,” Stevens said, with his head bowed slightly, “but, though we only checked the math briefly, it works perfectly. I…I don’t see how--”

“Have Major Ko, and Colonel Jennings’s team check it more thoroughly. Two. We don’t know if these decrease events will continue from hence forth. Three. If the speed of light is THE speed limit, then what the hell is it doing going slower, in our realm? Four. And this is the biggy. Maplen’s hypothesis can’t be true, since the entire universe would most likely be involved.”

“But sir, if I may.”

“Of course, by all means.”

“Dr. Maplen is now checking on world-wide astronomical observatories, to see if there have been any changes in Cepheid variables, pulsars, and binary stars. If there have been changes, then it could be a local event. But if not, then it could be a universe-wide event.”

“Yeah, well, I highly doubt it’s a universe-wide event, Colonel. My final opinion? Tricks from the hull. Meaningless for reality. All of it lies. A big, huge illusion. You should be getting back, Stevens. Help proof-read the math. I’m sure all of you will find major discrepancies in this theory.”

“All right, sir.” Stevens slowly pushed the report across the table. “Sir, you can have the report. I didn’t have time for a copy.” He stood up.

General Tauring picked up the report and glanced at the first few pages, noticing the mathematical calculations.

“Sir. One more thing.”

“Sure, Colonel. What is it?”

“Sir. I know you may not want to hear this, but…Indalo’s last image. Sir, if the speed of light does becomes zero, I mean, if it no longer exists, then…then our local area, the universe even, can no longer exist.”

General Tauring rose up from his chair. “Colonel. Stop. I’ve heard enough. We will discuss this at our seventeen hundred hour meeting. There has to be another answer, and God dammit, we will find it.”