What's happened so far:
The brilliant cosmologist and holographer Dr. Jack Martins discovered a way to create a spherical hologram. These holograms are so lifelike and vivid that those who see them cannot distinguish the hologram from actual reality.
The Holographic Principle states that all of our three-dimensional reality can be described on the two-dimensional boundary of a sphere. Jack's holograms and papers proved that reality itself may simply be a holographic projection, that the light recorded by our telescopes comes not from faraway stars, but a holographic illusion. Jack proposed that the universe wasn't 13.5 billion light years in diameter, but only 4.618 light years, and that the rest of the galaxy (and the universe) was just an illusion. This holographic boundary was called the Martins Sphere. A probe was sent out by the military to the barrier. It disappeared. A second probe was sent; it too disappeared. Finally, a manned mission was sent, led by Captain Katrina Antropov and a crew of scientists. The excerpt begins as the ship, affectionately named the Cheesy Poof 2 by its crew, approaches the theoretical end of the universe:
T’Munga Watanabe snorted in disgust. All looked normal through the clear composite material of the control room windows. Instruments indicated their position as almost 0.253 light years past the Alpha Centauri system relative to Sol. The ship inched along now, very close to the so‑called Martins Sphere barrier. There were no anomalies.
The Cheesy Poof 2 was shaped like an elongated cylinder and had three sections. The forward compartment contained the command chair occupied by the captain. The engineering and navigation sections were along one wall, and the scientific stations along the other wall. Katrina Antropov insisted that their view of space be unhindered as they approached the barrier, so all of the transparencies were open.
The second section contained cramped living quarters for each crew member and an exercise room. Gravity was maintained at earth normal but inactive muscles soon atrophied. Regs required each crew member to spend one hour in each 24 hour ‘day’ working out. This directive was ruthlessly enforced by the captain.
The back of the ship held the cargo bay.
“This is ridiculous,” T’Munga Watanabe said, “but I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
Rad Greenberg resisted the temptation to run through the same arguments again with his rival and colleague. “We’ll see.”
“Fifteen minutes till impact,” Katrina announced. She gazed at a small holovid which showed the calculated view of Real Space, a tiny bubble 4.618 light years in radius from Sol.
T'Munga looked up, irritated. “Impact? With what?”
“Don’t start,” Greenberg said. Watanabe fired up to respond.
“Calm down mates,” Clarke said. His words calmed the tall, muscular Japanese–American with the afro. T'Munga did not respond to Rad's taunt.
Katrina Antropov sat in the captain’s chair in front of the control console. “Sixty seconds,” she intoned. Was there something out there? A shimmering of some kind, indicating the mythical holographic boundary and the end of Real Space? Katrina looked once more, seeing nothing unusual. T'Munga was right! But then she remembered what had happened to Cheesy‑Poof 1 and its predecessor. They were now approaching the exact same coordinates where the probes had disappeared.
“Full stop,” she ordered.
The ship now stood in space approximately ten miles in front of the supposed barrier and as motionless as possible relative to it. The coordinates of the earlier probe’s disappearance had been calculated as closely as possible but allowances must be made for error.
"Karl, launch the first probe."
One of the small rocket probes, filled with instrumentation, proceeded slowly out of the ship’s side.
As the probe moved forward Antropov moved the ship, always keeping at least 1,000 feet of distance between it and the probe. After fifteen minutes Watanabe began to laugh mockingly. “Look at us. We’re like a bunch of scared school kids afraid of the dark.” Rad Greenberg was irritated but the excitement he felt was beginning to turn sour within him. He began to feel that he had been wrong all along.
Nigel moved next to T'Munga and laughed with him. Soon the crew was laughing and releasing the tension that was within each of them.
No one noticed that the little probe had disappeared.
Antropov looked up and shrieked involuntarily. "T'Munga, full stop." She was disgusted with herself. At the very moment when she should have been paying close attention she had allowed herself to lapse into laziness. It was an unconscionable dereliction of duty and she would mention it in her captain’s log.
“Karl, where is that probe?” Katrina said.
Svenson scrambled to his station. “It’s gone!”
“What do you mean it’s gone?” T'Munga stepped to the little man's console and took a look for himself. “Shit on a stick.”
Behind him Rad Greenberg smiled smugly.
"One precious probe wasted because of my carelessness," Katrina muttered. There were now five left in the cargo bay. The probe had sent back its telemetry to the ship's data banks but there was simply no substitute for human observation. “Launch another probe Karl,” she commanded.
The probe began moving slowly forward. This time all hands kept their eyes peeled. T'Munga walked forward, just behind the captain’s chair, and stood staring. After two minutes of tension everyone relaxed. Nothing was happening. Then the little probe gradually disappeared. First its nose vanished. Then, like James Earl Jones exiting the Field of Dreams, it was no more.
T'Munga stared in disbelief. Nigel and Karl, supposedly manning the data input stations, stood with mouths agape. Katrina slammed her palms down on the navigation console.
“Report!” she barked, a little too loudly.
Svenson glanced at the readouts in disbelief. He said nothing.
“Karl!” Katrina said. “Report!”
Svenson recovered. “Captain! I said nothing because there is nothing to report.”
T'Munga strode across the cabin and looked at the display. “I don’t believe it. Captain, the probe sent back … absolutely nothing. All instruments read null.”
“Null? Explain.” Antropov was a non‑scientist dealing with academic types. She sometimes found their behavior incomprehensible. One thing she was sure of. The biggest space mission in earth’s history would not be a failure. Not under her command.
T'Munga turned and faced Katrina. “Our instruments have shown that the … holographic barrier, or whatever it is, is precisely 103.67 feet in front of us. Beyond that, instrumentation detects ... not nothing, but an utter absence of anything.”
“That’s correct captain,” Svenson affirmed. “It seems that what’s out there is not out there at all. I mean it’s not an emptiness but a complete nothingness. No space, no time, an utter lack of anything.”
“Null space,” T'Munga explained.
“So what does it mean?” Katrina asked.
“It means,” Rad blurted, “that the universe as we know it is just an illusion.”