“..have been sector-sweeping all the exit-portals; but there has been no contact so far. We repeat: inbound ship PD-7 from Medusa carrying 1093 passengers, is reported to be missing; making this the third such incident in as many days. Search parties have been..”
General muted the TeeVee. There was silence in the control room; as everyone stared at him. Finally, he spoke:
“Well, we knew this was coming for a while.. some of our ancestors, anyway. One of them had said that Prime Drive relied on the hope that there is no needle in an infinite haystack.”
Space travel had always been hard. The hurdle wasn’t about encoding matter as information signals, or transmitting signals faster than light. The hurdle was about the bandwidth needed to transmit payloads within reasonable timespans. (Some of those payloads would be actual people.. really annoyed people, since their “Guided Tour through the Local Cluster” would consume their whole life.)
But all of that changed in the 23rd century, with the discovery of a new fundamental particle: the Primon. With the ability to encode large prime numbers efficiently; it led to the creation of the Prime Drive, that could transmit essentially an infinite amount of data, using just two Primons. It was an enormous success; and for many many centuries, civilization exploded at super-exponential rates across the Galaxy.
By the 41st century, however, most people had forgotten something critical. The Drive was powered by more than just a source of energy; it was also powered by a sliver of hope. It was the hope that the Goldbach Conjecture wasn’t just a conjecture. Sure, moon-sized computers had been continuously searching for a counter-example; and planet-sized computers were trying to prove it; but neither had succeeded till date. At some point, the engineers conjectured that the Conjecture seemed ‘true enough’ to be used at the heart of the Prime Drive’s compression-and-relay loop.
General was now addressing the entire civilization via TeeVee.
“.. and here we are, in the 43rd century, with a total of 5581 people vanished at this point. We deeply regret each loss. We don’t know if any of the failed signals, and hence, the people they carried, can be reconstructed; but our engineers will try their best.”
“However, there is a silver lining. The search for knowledge has never been free; and these incidents, tragic as they are, have nevertheless yielded one precious morsel of truth that had evaded all of humanity for centuries.”
“The Conjecture is not true. End of message.”