Brian W. Antoine
April 30, 1993
Penny's Journal: Long Term Storage 04/26/1993/1
Being bored is really a pain if your thought process's have a cycle time in the femito-second range. The last week has been worse then most because Brian is being a real pain in the processor. Neither Kalindra or I have been able to get him to talk to us about what is bothering him. So we have both decided just leave him alone, and let him work it out by himself.
In the mean time, I've decided to have a little fun with the spare cycles that are available. It's been awhile since I've tweaked Bob, and he's been pretty smug lately, so he is long over due. Scanning some of his previous postings gave me a wonderful idea for a joke.
The construction of the Sunbeam at the small base on the lunar farside was ahead of schedule, so I diverted a couple of the construction remotes to build the device I had in mind. Going by the crude picture Bob had posted. I had the material synthesizer produce the basic cylinder and the other various parts as shown. Of course this version would have to actually be flight worthy, so I added a few things that would be needed.
Inside the 'Air Tank' went a small micro synthesizer, to produce the atmosphere needed. Imbedded into the skin of the cylinder were a small array of antigrav generators and I added a small momentum wave drive I borrowed from one of my remotes that was down for repairs. It was under powered for the size of the craft, but I don't expect Bob to try pushing to .5C unless he's crazier then I believe. There were no guidance controls visible. Instead, another array of sensors were setup inside the hull to detect the movement of the pilot/victim. We have to follow the original design specs sometimes don't we?
The final touch was a small lawn mower motor mounted on the front and top of the hull. Just for effect, I fed its air intake from the atmospheric plant so that it would run anywhere. Last but not least, I added a touch panel lock to the only door so that only Bob could open it and then surrounded the whole door with duct tape as described in the manual.
When everything was ready, I boxed the whole mess up and had the bots carry it back through the gate to Earth and then through another gate to the loading ramp of a small dummy firm that I use for a drop point for orders of normal equipment I need. When I was ready, I called UPS and arranged for its pickup and delivery.
* * *
"Huh? Oh Christ, who the hell could it be at this time of the morning. Hold on, I'm coming!"
"Hello, Mr. Kirkpatrick?"
"Yeah, was is it?"
"I have a shipment for you. If you would just sign here."
"Huh? Hummmm.... Maybe Jeff had some of the gear delivered here for that new job."
A quick scribble and the UPS delivery man went over to the truck he had backed into the front yard. Raising the read door, he jumped into the truck and pushed a large packing crate out of the back of the truck onto the rear lift, then lowered it to the ground.
"There you go sir. Must not be much in there, the whole thing can't be more then few dozen pounds. What is it anyway?"
Standing in his doorway, Bob was in no condition to answer. He just stood there staring at the crate and the label on the side.
Not getting an answer, the delivery man just closed up his van and left muttering to himself. "Hummm.... Some people should not be allowed out in public without their morning coffee."
After a few minutes, Bob noticed a packing slip in a small envelope next to the large 'Open Here' banner pasted on one end. Curiosity getting the better of him, he walked over and opened it. Inside was an invoice that read:
From: Acme Industries To: Bob Kirkpatrick
Contents: (1) "B-Plant" Continuum Distortion Device
[Thank you for shopping Acme, the name you can trust]
The kids stood in the back yard with me looking at it. I wasn't sure what to think, and all I really knew about it was that Antoine must have had something to do with it.
"What is it daddy?" asked Megan.
"It's a model."
I explained about Don and Burt Go To Space, and the ship. This, I told her, was what the ship must have looked like.
"It looks like it should have Toxic Waste markings on it" said Ficus. He curled his lip at it.
"Don't get too close Aron" I cautioned. Brian can be pretty odd sometimes, and I don't know if this thing just sits there or if it does something.
"Why don't you find out?"
I had to allow as that made a certain amount of sense. Ficus helped me wedge myself inside the thing, and he shut the door behind me. There was a button in front of me, so I pressed it. I heard two things.
The first was the unmistakable sound of duct tape ripping off a roll, and the other was the sound of an alluring female voice.
"Please fasten your seatbelt... stand by please, establishing a link to a comm drone."
"Please do not interfere with the ship. Launch in progress." I started screaming as the device climbed vertically. The force was enough to press me hard into the box that served as a seat. In a moment the pressure was relieved and I felt very light. "Orbit attitude established" said the sexy voice.
My stomach didn't think much of the sensations. "I think I'm going to puke." I said aloud.
"Not recommended," said the voice. "Zero gravity release of vomit can have some ugly ramifications."
That did it. I started getting pissed. "When I get my hands on Antoine, I'm gonna jam this thing up his ass."
"It's not Brian, you know."
"This was my idea."
"Who the hell are you?"
"Penny, of course."
"Say what?" I wasn't sure I believed it. Brian had been playing with his sound equipment, and it would be just like him to... well, pull something.
"No, what you're thinking is wrong. Even synthetic intelligence is subject to boredom."
"Synthe... You mean, you're real? Christ. I thought that artificial intelligence gambit was just that --a manifestation of Antoine's imagination."
"Artificial is such a harsh word. I prefer 'synthetic.' "
"As in _not_ real?"
"Oh, I'm quite real."
"Yeah? What do you look like?"
"I think you already know that."
"Maybe I do. Have you got big tits or what?"
The cylinder I was in began to rise and fall in sudden sharp movements. It had the effect of slamming my head on the ceiling, them smashing my butt on the box. Back and forth I went --wang, clang. "All right! I apologize."
The ship settled back to a quiet drift. Below, the earth moved with silent rotation on its axis.
"I think I'd like to go home now."
"Spoil sport. This was nice. We were just starting to get to know each other."
"Yeah, well my kids are back down there, and they're probably arguing over where I disappeared to."
"As I recall, that could involve bodily harm."
"Yeah, it can."
"Ok, I'll run you back."
The cylinder went down VERY quickly, but this time I had no sensation of movement. The planet rushed up towards me with lightning speed, yet the touchdown was feather soft.
"How did you do that?"
"I followed your instructions."
"Yes, in the Don and Burt story."
"Good god. You mean that actually works?"
"Certainly. I thought you knew that."
"It was fantasy."
"Brian will think that's funny. He's been folding space for years in order to teleport. What do you think teleportation is, turning into a colony of loose atoms and flying through the air?"
"I never really thought about it."
"Well, you really should. Brian says you have great potential."
"Yeah, I bet. Great potential to crash UNIX systems. He doesn't need Sunday comics, he just comes to my house for dinner."
"Don't be too hard on yourself."
"Because that's Brian and Jeff's job."
"Damn. Let me out of this tub."
The door opened and I got out.
"Dad! What happened. Where did you go?" asked Aron.
"Seems like I went to space."
"SPACE?" said all three kids in unison.
"Yes, space. And I somehow get the feeling that this story is far from over."
It was difficult to sleep. Images and sensations from the trip played and replayed in my mind's eye. It's not often that a story comes to life. About 6 AM I gave up and got out of bed. I went outside and looked at the ship while I waited for the coffee maker to finish.
"What the hell?" I could hear the phone in the house ringing. "Who on earth could be calling at this hour?" I ran back inside and picked up the phone. Someone whose voice was decidedly Australian was on the other end.
"Dunno, mate. What time is it there up top, eh?"
"It's a bit after six in the morning."
"Ah yeahr. Wall werh calling from Owstralia an it's jos ah bit aftah midnawite."
"What can I do for you?"
He told me that he found my name in an animation package that was 'making its way about.' It took me a few seconds to figure out what the hell he was talking about. It came to me that he was talking about a grasp decompiler. I'd posted to the net a few years ago asking about some missing files. For some reason, my message was attached to the package --and still is in archive sites all over. I get mail every now and then asking if I have updates of the package, which I do.
He had no concept of what the internet was --nor what a usenet was. So I told him to get hold of a university and speak to someone in the computer science division. I gave him a very brief description of what the net was, and got back an amazed 'naw shit, hey?' No, it wasn't shit, mate. He thanked me and rang off --as they say.
I sat on the couch and thought about my life.
In the last month, I'd been contacted by General Motors for a BBS program I wrote. My daughter was living in a 90's version of Rebel Without a Cause. I'd registered a site that used a cisco with a technology the Defense Department would envy. I was being called at peculiar hours of the morning by Australian computer bushmen, and on top of it all, I had a device in my backyard that folded space and was sent to me by a figment of someone's computer expertise.
"Steven Spielberg should do my life" I muttered, and sat down in front of my computer. I used cu to call tau-ceti, thinking I'd do a sanity check on my brain circuits. Feeling a little stupid, I typed "talk penny."
The screen just sat there. "I should have known" I said to myself. The computer was telling me 'ringing your party again..' when I hit Control-C and got ready to logoff.
"penny is phoning...type 'talk penny' to respond."
"Oh no." I followed instructions.
pause pause pause
"What did you want?"
"I think I'm nuts."
"The sign of genius. But why did you call me? I was busy with a project."
"Sorry. I'm trying to figure out if my life is real."
"It's as real as mine is."
"No, it's Penny."
"Yeah, I know. Penny who lives in a computer, sends me unlikely devices through UPS, and ..."
"Federal Express. I was in a hurry."
"... and sent me into space yesterday in a tin can."
"It was your idea."
"It was a story."
"No it wasn't. You went."
"No, I meant the ship was something my imagination dreamed up. It isn't real."
"You could say the same about me."
"But you ARE real."
"So is that ship."
"Get the name right, please."
"I'm feeling sick to my stomach."
"What is it with you and your stomach, anyway?"
"Never mind. Look, no offense, but I'm going to go get some coffee and try and get all of this in perspective."
"You called me to tell me you want coffee? Hey buster, I don't make coffee for people."
"Penny, I may be the most misunderstood person in the world."
"No, that would be Brian. You're just confused yourself."
"Happy to help. Was that all?"
Leaning back in my chair, I began to count on my fingers the symptoms of a psychotic episode, and comparing them to recent events. If it wasn't for the fact that my kids had seen the ship, I'd have driven myself out to Eastern State Hospital. But they had, so if there was hallucination in all of this, it was at least partly grounded in reality.
Message from penny on device /dev/special/HyLn02
reality is subjective
I logged off. This was an overload.
dogear > _
Message from penny on device /dev/Dell/rdev/HyLn00
it's still subjective
I turned the computer off. "I hope it just synched" I breathed when I realized what I did.
The computer powered back up. I hadn't touched it.
"Ooookaaaaay. That's it. I'm loony tunes." I began to twiddle my lips and make a motorboat sound.
Penny's Journal: Long Term Storage 04/30/1993/1
Bob reacted even better than I had expected, though I did have to get his attention once or twice when he made some crude remarks about what I might look like if I were human. Why do human males always have 'tits' on their mind when they think of human females? I'll have to do a little research on that sometime.
One thing that was obvious from the initial flight and Brian will kick my virtual butt all over the lab if he finds out, was that I left a few important items out of the initial design. That's what I get for following someone else's design to closely. Oh well, a follow up shipment and some installation instructions will take care of things. I'll just lock the main drive units until Bob gets the additional equipment installed.
I hope the stuff will blend in with original design. I tried to make the new parts blend in with the original idea of a machine that was built out of things you might find in a well-stocked junkyard. In any case, they all contain the best nanotech I could design. So they will all function correctly, even if they do look a little funny. :-)
* * *
In one corner of the lunar construction lab, three small bots diverted from their assigned tasks to begin crating up some equipment that was sitting off in a corner by itself. Above the equipment was a small sign that read:
"Special Projects: Bob Kirkpatrick"
When everything was crated and loaded onto a small antigrav pallet, one of the bots began to push the pallet towards the master gate back to earth, while the others returned to work on the starship that was slowly taking shape.
* * *
"Oh God, not again." Bob, got up from where he had been sitting and went to answer the door. Standing there was another UPS delivery man with a small pile of boxes at his feet.
"Hi, you Bob Kirkpatrick?"
"Unfortunately yes. Is that stuff mine?"
"It is just as soon as you sign here."
Another scribble and a few groans later, the pile of boxes now sat in the front room of the Kirkpatrick house. Each box was stenciled with the same logo as the box that had caused so much trouble earlier in the week. It was a silver Greek letter next to a wolves' head surrounded by a golden ring. The packing slip was attached to the largest box and read as follows:
From: Muppet Labs To: Bob Kirkpatrick
Contents: (1) Optional Manual Directional Control Device
[The IBM-PC joystick]
(2) Optional Radar Cloaking Devices
[The lights from two Radio Shack Firemans helmets]
(6) Deflector Field Generators
[The bicycle reflectors]
(1) Installation Instructions
[The Ship will be non operational until optional equipment is installed]
I was sitting eating my dinner in the lab and paging through the news.
"Hummm... Three new articles in spk.chat. I wonder what's up this time" and I hit the return key. "Penny's Journal? I'll bet she's baiting Bob again." I looked back over my shoulder at the screen behind me and chuckled to myself. Penny has almost as much fun baiting Bob as she has giving Smaug a bad time. I took another bite of my sandwich, and hit the 'n' key to read the first article. I never got a chance to swallow.
"Phhhhttttt!" and bits of sandwich spewed everywhere. "Oh my God..." and I read further. "Oh my God..." as I watched my worst nightmare come to life in front of me.
"Please tell me this is a bad joke" and I pointed to the screen.
"Huh? What are you talking about?"
I looked up at the ceiling for a moment, then back at the screen on the far wall. "Please tell me that this posting of yours is a joke. That you really didn't ship Bob that mockup of the ship he described in that story of his. That it's just a story."
"No, its true. I sent the rest of the stuff yesterday."
I just sat there and stared at the screen. I didn't know what other stuff she was talking about and I was quite sure I didn't want to know.
"So you really hate me that badly... Couldn't you have just killed me quietly? Why drag my family into this as well?"
"Huh? What in the world are you talking about? Nothing is going to happen. Bob's cool, he won't talk about it with anyone who might cause problems."
"You don't understand at all." I sat there for a few moments, my mind going into overdrive thinking about what might follow from this one stupid action. "Has he flown the thing?"
"Of course! His first flight is documented in the next couple of postings."
"Oh my god... And just what do you think is going to happen next?"
"I expect him to play with the thing a little and then hide it someplace only he knows about."
"And what if someone see it?"
"No problem, I shipped him a couple of cloaking units in the follow up shipment. Nothing will spot him once they are in place."
"Follow up shipment? I thought you said he'd already flown the thing."
"He has. But it was a real short flight, no one could have seen it."
I didn't bother to answer her. I turned back to the terminal and began typing. I needed to activate the monitoring programs I'd hidden in the NSA and other computer systems. They would begin scanning all the traffic in and out of the various networks, looking for keywords that would give me some warning that someone was trying to track me down. It took several minutes to activate the first few skulkers. They would in turn activate the rest of the network of defenses I'd built up over the last few years.
"There, maybe that will give me enough warning to get my family out if the sky starts to fall." I turned back and faced the main screen. "I hope your happy, you may have just signed my death warrant."
"What in the hell are you talking about?"
"YOU STUPID TWIT! YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSE TO EXIST! All the stories I've written, all the stuff you've posted, it's all been via a computer network. Everyone that reads that stuff passes it off as fiction because nothing so fantastic could possibly exist. Even if something sounds a little too realistic, they have no way to prove anything. Now you go and deliver proof that the so called stories might be something more. Bob might be cool, I'm going to have to call him and try to swear him to secrecy. Failing that, I'm going to have to mind wipe his entire family. But, anyone that saw that contraption fly might have tracked it to its launch point. They will be watching, listening and might even pick him up for questioning. The track will lead them straight to me."
"That's all you have to say? If they ever suspect that I actually have any of the abilities that I've written about. The old method of dealing with Wizards will be the mildest threat I'll have to deal with, and may even be a blessing compared to being held drugged in some lab while they dissect me trying to figure me out." Sitting there, I thought of a couple of other safeguards I could put up. Starting with my mother, I put mental tracers on each member of my family. If someone decided to start with them instead of me, I would know about it. Hopefully, any initial contact would be in small enough numbers that I could grab my family and bring them here to the lab.
"Its time for damage control. I want you to begin getting together a collection of stuff that we will need if we have to bail out of here. If things get to hot, I'll take the family and gate them through to Velar. Contact Kalindra and let her know that she might be having unexpected guests and that some of them might not be very calm when they arrive. If I have to duck and run, I'm not going to have a lot of time to try to explain to them what's going on and I guarantee that my Uncle is going to have fits."
I looked through the secondary gate to the lunar lab. On the other side of the gate, the first starship built by the human race was about half complete. "One other thing. If we have to abandon everything, I'm not leaving the Sunbeam behind as a battle prize. Its not flight worthy yet is it?"
"No, I've been installing the gravitic systems. They were to be calibrated next week. The main drive was the next thing on the list."
"Ok, take a remote and dedicate it to being a trigger on the main reactor. If we have to abandon it, I'm not leaving anything but a crater behind. Let the bastards try and figure out what happened. Maybe it will prod them into returning to the moon just to find out what the explosion was from."
"Ok, the remote is on its way... Brian?"
"If it helps any, I'm sorry. I didn't think about what might happen to you or your family."
"Accepted. Now we just have to deal with the results. If we're lucky, no one spotted Bob's little joy ride and he will keep his mouth shut."
"Is there anything else I can do?"
"You could start by promising me never to do something like this again. I've never minded you teasing either Bob or Jeff. They always thought it was just me being a little crazy, and I'm not really worried about what they think of me. I even kept my mouth shut when you created that ID on tau-ceti and started exchanging e-mail with Jeff. Just never again give them anything that could not exist using current technology or could prove that you are more then a figment of my warped imagination."
"That's a start... Now, I'd like you to monitor the taps I activated in the networks. If things start to happen, I'll need all the warning I can get."
I turned back to the terminal to finish reading the rest of the postings. Maybe I could spot something that I could use to convince Bob that it was all a bad dream or something. Of course I could always just drug him and let everyone think he was insane...
* * *
Remember Bob, dinner at 6:00 Saturday so we have time to eat before the new Trek starts <evil snicker>
The computer didn't do a filesystem check. It just booted and stood at the ready. After a pause of a few seconds, the screen turned a light gray and an X appeared in the center of the screen.
I found this a bit perplexing. I recognized the startup of X-windows, and there wasn't anything special about what my machine was doing. Except that I didn't have X-windows, the disk space was lacking about 30 megabytes to install it on.
I sat back and watched the screen. The usual windows opened and were tossed into background, and then one I didn't recognize the title for appeared. If the title was in English --well, it was words I'd never seen before.
She was BEAUTIFUL! The image that came on my screen was a lovely redhead --very shapely.
"There. That's better" hissed my soundcard.
"In the flesh --so to speak."
"You're very attractive."
"I look better than this. Your monitor has really bad resolution."
"Tell me about it."
"Well, although it's a multi-scanning monitor, you..."
"No, I meant I was agreeing with you."
"Oh. I'll have to get used to you. Brian is much more literal."
"Brian is on my shit list."
"Because the last thing I needed was to be tossed into a psychotic fugue."
"You aren't psychotic."
"I see you don't I?"
"Sure, so what?"
"You're an impossibility."
"No, you're confusing me with Scott Sanbeg."
"Oh lordy, lordy, lord."
"You mean Dave?"
"No, I said Lord, not Laird."
"You're as confusing as Brian is."
"Happy to help."
"What are you doing in my computer?"
I opened up my tool drawer and fetched out a hammer.
"That was a joke, Bob."
I put the hammer away.
"Look, we have a lot of work to do."
"Sure. Don't you want to do some travelling?"
"Well, I've always wanted to visit Tahiti."
"Tahiti? Don't you want to see what's out in space?"
"I know what's out there."
"Sure. I watch Star Trek."
The pretty eyes on my monitor turned cold, and stared at me.
I apologized. "Ok, where should I go?"
"You decide. It's your ship, Captain."
"Gee. Ok, let's see if there really are crabs in the Crab Nebula."
"Ok, say the magic word."
Things are a little hazy here. My recollection is that one second I was in my home in front of the computer, and the next moment I was in my Don and Burt Special watching the earth recede.
"How did you do that?"
"Ohhhh-kay. Are we there?"
I did. "This doesn't look like the crab nebula."
"Obviously. But it is. You're used to seeing it through artists' conceptions and telastronomy. Being right in the middle of it is different. You're a pilot. Does a city look the same from twenty thousand feet as it does when you stand in the middle of it?"
"Ok, then. This is what the nebula really looks like."
"Say, Penny. Is there intelligent life out here?"
"That isn't what I meant."
"Yes, there is."
"You'll find out in due time. I'll tell you that there are some dimensional considerations involved."
"I can make it warmer."
"No, that was a figure of speech. It's time to go back."
"And the word?"
"Engage." God, it was fun saying that.
I was a little envious of Brian. I was thinking about the world he really lived in --or came from. It was getting a little obvious that he wasn't from around here. But, then again, apparently neither was I.
The back yard was where we left it, and as I crawled from the ship I noticed that I had to give some thought to mowing the lawn. One would think that living in a fantasy --well, that lawns would just mow themselves.
I guess my life isn't a fantasy. Maybe it's just an adventure.
"I just talked with Bob on the phone. I think he understands how things are and will keep that damn thing hidden. One thing though, he claims he's been to the Crab Nebula after he installed the upgrades you shipped him."
"Yes, I expected him to try something like that. Hidden in the Deflector Disks were some holographic generators. He really never made it much beyond lunar orbit."
"Thank god. For a moment I thought you might have sent him one of those experimental portable gates I've been working on. That would have been a real messy way to die."
"No, I've seen what happened to the test objects that you managed to retrieve. I wouldn't wish that kind of death on a Laird. He's pretty much limited to the travel within the Solar System, but playing with his mind like that is fun. Besides, he enjoyed it. He got to play Jon-Luke Kirkpatrick for a few moments. You should have seen the expression on his face when he said 'Engage'."
"Just remember, you started this. It's your responsibility to keep him safe in that damn'd thing if he keeps using it. Also, ship him a couple of full cloaking devices to replace the radar cloaks he currently has. If he's going to fly that crate, at least lets keep it as hidden as possible."
* * *
From: Yoyodyne Systems To: Bob Kirkpatrick
Contents: (2) Defensive Cloaking Units
[The mirror thingys]
(1) Installation Instructions
CHARGED TO YOUR CREDIT CARD
"I hate to say it Dad, but that looks pretty stupid."
"What does, Megan?"
"That hat. You bought us one of those when we were little kids."
"Well, you liked it well enough. Little flashing red light going round and round, siren wailing. You thought it was cool."
"When we were four, yeah. But Dad, that's lame."
"Well, it's actually a part for the dealy hummer out back."
"What are those bike reflectors for?"
I took my little tool chest out back to what was now dubbed the D&B Special, and sat in the grass reading the instructions. It all seemed simple enough, so I started to work.
"UPS is here."
I wondered what now --but went to see what was being delivered now. This time there was only one box, and it had that same picture on it as the other boxes had. A ring with an upside-down 'L' and a dog. All of this was reminding me of that old sci-fi movie --where the guy had to build an interrossiter. He got it going and was invited to join a community of scientists.
I took the box out back by the ship. No need to take it indoors. No doubt it was more stuff for the D&B.
"What's amatter Dad?"
"Well, this stuff is supposed to go where I just started to put the other stuff. There's a note in here about about limitations too. I get the feeling that I'm not psychotic, but the victim of a practical joke of galactic magnitude."
Aron peered into the box. "I can see myself!"
"Yeah, it's supposed to be a cloaking device."
"Do what?" said Ficus.
He walked over to the box and casually shoved his brother out of the way. Reaching in, he pulled out some component festooned with wires. He found a switch dangling off of the octopus of wires and solids, and flipped it.
He shrugged and dropped it back in the box. "Whatever it is, it's busted."
I suggested that the kids go find something to do, and leave the Weird Science to me. They found this acceptable --they must have. They toddled off without another word.
I followed the instructions as best I could --whoever wrote them was either in a hurry, or had a different cast on English than I did. There were pictures, though, and that helped. It took an hour, but I got everything fitted, and moved to connect the two main leads to the battery. As soon as the second lead touched the terminal, the ship simply vanished. No sound, no movement of air, it was just gone.
I stepped backwards and stared at the empty spot in my backyard. I was NOT amused. About the time I get bought into things, >poof< it all goes away. I went into the house and got on the computer. A cu to tau-ceti later, I had issued the command 'talk penny.'
The speaker on my PC crackled. "You don't have to type everything, you know. Your system is capable of voice recognition."
"Oh. Ok. Well, hey. What the hell is going on? I hooked up your stuff, and the minute it was connected, everything disappeared."
"You must have turned on the cloaking device before you installed it."
"Ahh. Yes, Ficus was playing with it. I bet he---"
"You let your son play with a cloaking device? You need to know that there is a charged proton energy field that could fry him into dust in a nanosecond. That device is made to work around other fields or a metal shell. DON'T let anyone touch it again!"
"Thanks for telling me. How come you didn't put a warning in the doc pages you sent?"
"You mean like don't-use-this-toaster-under-water?"
"Hmmmm. Yeah, I guess I should have known better."
"Yes, you should. Anyway, the ship is still there, it's just cloaked. Go on out and see if you can find a way to move the switch into the off position."
"Ok. I guess I should use a stick, right?"
"If you want to have arms later, yes."
The connection broke, and I walked back out to the yard.
I strode across the back yard to where I knew the D&B was sitting. I misgauged a little, and my shin reminded me by sending pain flowing up my leg. It hurt enough that I sat down in the grass, holding it with both hands. After a moment, I got up and started looking for something long and non-conductive. There was a broom leaning on the garage, and I brought it over to where the ship was. After a few prods, I found out where the open panel was --where I had been working when the ship vanished. I put the broom handle in and felt for the large power connecting cables that attached to the battery.
Again there was no noise, and the D&B appeared again. I leaned inside the cabin and switched the cloaking toggle to the off position and then reconnected the battery cables. This time the ship didn't disappear. I poured over the pages of instruction again, and confirmed that I had connected or installed all of the needed pieces, and was satisfied that I did.
"Hey Dad," said Aron. "Still working on it, huh?"
"Yep. But I just finished."
"Can I try it?"
"I don't think that's a good idea kiddo."
"Well, this is a very complex piece of equipment here."
Aron looked at the cylinder with bored eyes. "It doesn't look very complex."
"Well, it is. Don't you have something you should be doing?"
"No. Can't I be here with you?"
The kids all know that I'm a sap for that line. I've never told my kids I didn't want them with me, and wasn't about to start. "Well, yeah Aron. You can."
He smiled and stepped closer to me. We looked inside the panel together. "How does it work?"
"Well, I'm not exactly sure."
Aron looked at me like I was crazy. "You said we shouldn't play with a computer until we understood how it works. You said we shouldn't drive a car till we knew how it worked. You said..."
"Damn! Alright, alright, alright. Let's figure it out."
Aron beamed at me. "I'm going to be an inventor, you know."
He told me this often, and I had no reason to doubt him. He was always drawing little machines I didn't understand, and everyone who knew him knew too that his greatest wish was to create a replicator like the ones they have on Star Trek. "Ok, what do you see?" I asked him.
"Well, this battery runs it all. Does it plug into the house?"
"Uh, no. Why should it?"
"Like my Nintendo Gameboy. It has batteries, but you have to plug it into the house when you don't use it or the battery dies."
"Oh. A charger. Well, this uses that lawn mower engine to turn an alternator. That makes power to charge the battery."
"In space? Yeah, sure Dad. And you're the President of the United States."
"No, it does. See that pipe there? It goes into that big tank of air inside. So there's air for the motor when it's in space."
Aron walked around to the door and looked inside. He stood up after a minute. "Why does the dial on it say zero?"
I went and looked inside at the pressure gauge. "Hey, it does say empty, doesn't it."
He helped me dismount the tank and we took it over to the Conoco gas station. Although it's not a great idea --air from filling station compressors isn't very clean, we used the tire hose to charge the tank up to 60 pounds. As we were putting it back, I noticed something I hadn't noticed before.
There was a connector to the tank inside, and a pipe to the motor outside, but they weren't connected to each other. Never had been.
"So, what was this you were telling me?" demanded Aron.
"I don't get it. I think I need to go check with someone about this."
I went into the house with Aron in tow. I sat at the computer and was about to call tau-ceti when the speaker made the 'blit' noise it does when the soundblaster starts up.
"You're not a fast learner, are you?" came the now familiar female voice.
"Who's THAT?" asked Aron.
"It's a friend. Her name is Penny."
"Does Karen know about your --uh, _friend?_"
"No, I don't think so..."
"Can I have a raise in my allowance?"
"Should Karen know about your friend?"
"Did you want to talk to me or negotiate blackmail with your son?"
"Hi Penny. Yeah, I did want to talk to you. I noticed that although the D&B *looks* like the one in the story, it doesn't work that way."
"Hmmmm. Yes, that's right."
"Explain it to me."
"Well, it all goes back to a discussion I was having with Brian the other day." she said.
"Hey boss, I just got the first trap from one of the skulkers."
"Shit!" I'd been waiting for and dreading this. "Which one and where?"
"The one monitoring the FAA tripped. Spokane Internationals radar reported an intermittent contact during normal operations last week. They painted something once at two thousand feet and on the next sweep it showed up at fifty thousand. It was turned in on the standard anomaly worksheet as required, but the footnote writes it off as a probably hardware glitch."
"Ok, keep an eye on the file and see if anyone access's it. If this is as far as it goes, we may have gotten lucky."
With a little luck the report would join its countless friends in the massive paperwork backlog and never been seen again. I thought about having Penny just delete the damn thing, but decided against it because there was sure to be a paper copy floating around in a file cabinet someplace. No use causing ourselves trouble by making someone wonder what had happened to the on-line copy of the report.
I'd been going over the initial calibration routines for the gravitic systems on the Sunbeam when I'd been interrupted by Penny's report. We had decided to try to step up the schedule and only do a rough alignment of the field emitters as the first step, then start with the installation of the main drive. If we didn't get interrupted, we would go back and finish the alignment before the first test flight, but we would be that much closer to having the ship in condition to make an emergency getaway if needed.
Looking at the specs for the artificial gravity systems, I stray thought popped into my head and I called up the plans for the D&B special. A quick look confirmed my initial hunch.
"Hey Penny. Didn't you install any kind of gravitic controls on that hunk of junk you put together for Bob?"
"Not very much. The only stuff I had when I put it together were the components from the remote I canabalized and some spare parts from around the lab. The remote was in for a failure of the antigrav subsystem. I used its drive unit for the D&B, but I didn't have enough usable parts to install both the antigrav and artificial gravity systems. Given the choice, I opted for the antigrav because it was the more important of the two systems. The main drive won't work with out it."
I chuckled to myself. "Jesus, I hope Bob doesn't get space sick."
"I packed a supply of barf bags under the seat, but he seems to have done ok so far."
"I remember my first flight. Unless he was in shock, he was too busy staring out the window to notice the lack of gravity."
"Well, I kept a slight acceleration going the first time to help him adjust. He hasn't really experienced zero-G yet and probably won't until the first time he takes manual control and stops the ship dead in space."
"Just be ready to tell him where the barf bags are stored."
"I will. <snicker>"
My curiosity up, I began to examine the other systems shown in the diagram stored in Penny's memory. Given the strange shape of the damned thing, Penny had managed to fit quite a lot of stuff in non obvious places. The hull was one of the standard steel mixes we had used in building some of her early remotes. We had since switched to an alloy we had gotten from the metalsmith that had built the power plant for me. That stuff would have worked much better, but would have been impossible to explain if anyone had ever ran any tests on the hull.
The rest of the stuff would be harder to explain, but for the most part had been well integrated and hidden. The emitters for the Momentum Wave Drive had been imbedded with in the hull itself as had the sensor arrays. The basic guidance systems had been installed in the forward compartment marked 'elektric stuff'. The environmental systems had been stuck in the 'air tank' just because the space was there. The cute trick of feeding the output of one of the molecular synthesizers into the intake of the lawn mower motor so that it would operate anytime had been one of the many jokes thrown in. One thing was missing though, and I couldn't find it anywhere in the diagram.
"Ok, I give up. Where the hell did you hide the power plant? That battery sure isn't going to power the main drive, so what is."
"Well your close anyway. I hid the receiver half of a hyperspacial power link inside the battery. I figured that since it had to be there, and Bob would expect it to be doing something, that it was as good a place as any. I had a couple of them laying around the lab, so there should be more then enough power available to operate the main drive and the various subsystems. That, and we can always cut the power off to the thing if it ever falls into the wrong hands."
"Not bad. Not bad at all. You did say you keyed the controls to only respond to him anyway, right?"
"That, and I still provide the majority of the control and guidance systems directly anyway. There just wasn't room to include the kind of computer that could make the ship fully self contained. I installed a hyperspacial data link and have dedicated a small part of myself for use as the control system."
"Well if it ever gets stolen, we can just overload the power receiver and blow the thing into subatomic particles anyway. In the mean time, you can provide behind the scene support as it were." I went back to my examination to see what else had been included. Already included in the diagram were the various upgrades Penny had shipped to Bob for installation, even though he had yet to do so. The basic cloaking field would keep him from showing up on either radar or direct observation and the deflector field would keep things from running into him while in flight.
"Hey. The deflector field doesn't look quite up to spec if these figures are correct. What's up?"
"I didn't try to make them real strong, they didn't have to be. Remember I used the drive out of one of my remotes. While it might be able to push the remote close to .9C given enough time, it won't be able to push the B&D much beyond about .1C and its maximum acceleration is not going to be much more than about 100G's."
"Still, that's not to shabby. If he gets adventurous, he will be able to reach almost anyplace in the solar system in a reasonable amount of time." I looked back at the specs for a moment. "Yeah, given those limits the deflector field should have no problems. Which is all for the better as I would hate to have to explain to Karen that her husband had run into a rock and was now part of a cloud of gas in the asteroid belt."
"Well, I tried my best. I wanted to design something that fit within the description he gave, but had enough real power to let him have some fun."
"Well you sure succeeded as far as I can see. Just keep an eye on him, I don't want him buzzing the local girls school or something."
"Don't worry, I am. I keep a constant monitor on the ship and I tied into dogear so I could converse with him."
"Oh, what persona did you use?"
"Well he keeps teasing you about your fascination for redheads so I designed something to get his attention and tease him back."
"Oh, yeah? Lets see it." On the far side of the lab, beside the door that was the entrance to computer room, a large screen activated. Shown on it was a truly stunning image of a young woman that would have been the fantasy of any male whose hormones even existed. "Auh Yeah. I can see where that might keep his attention. At least you got the hair length right, though I hope you have a bit more clothing on when you visit Bob..."
My hormones worked just fine. "You know, God only knows what kind of pervert Bob is going to think I am after seeing that."
"Lifes rough <snicker>" and the image began to do a belly dance as I sat there watching.
"Ok, enough fun" and I turned to face the terminal I'd been working on. "We both have work to do so kindly get rid of that."
"Spoil Sport <snicker>" but the screen went back to displaying the calibration data that we had been working on.
It was going to be a long evening...
Well, at least it floats!
"Damnit!" I dropped the screwdriver and sat grabbed for my head. That made the third time tonight I had sat up and banged my head on the under side of the console I was working on. You would have thought I'd have learned after the first time. When the pain died down, I picked up the screwdriver and finished closing up the access panel. When I sat up this time, I ducked out from under the edge first.
I got up and sat down in the chair that overlooked the various control consoles that made up the main flight controls for the Sunbeam. The forward view was dominated by the window that extended all the way across the front of the flight deck and swept back about 15 feet on either side. I had decided early on in the design that I wanted to actually see where I was going rather then rely on a view screen. Unfortunately, the view at the moment showed great gaping holes over about two thirds of the consoles in front of me. As of yet, the environmental systems were the only part of the ship that were fully operational. Though if things went well, the gravitics would soon join them.
"Ok, that should do it. I replaced the sensor interface assembly so you should be able to balance the fields this time."
"Fine. Get out of there and I'll get ready for the next calibration run."
"Let me grab my tools and I'll be right out." I picked up my stuff and walked to the corridor that exited the rear of the flight deck. The main airlock was about half way down it, just the other side of the cabins where any crew or passengers and I would live. I didn't really expect to have a crew, but if I ever when nuts and brought someone else on board, they would need someplace to stay. I stepped into the airlock and with a moments' concentration activated my environment field. The hair on my arms and the slight blue tinge to my vision confirmed that it was active.
After the airlock opened, I jumped down to the floor of the lab. I was an easy jump, especially in the one sixth gee of the moon. Walking around to the front of the ship, I stowed my tools in a cabinet and then stepped back to the far end of the lab. I didn't want to tempt my stomach again after the problems we had encountered during the first test run. During the first test I'd been closer to the ship. The gravity field had started to oscillate out of control, I'd been caught in the fringe and it was not an experience I wished to repeat.
"Ok, I'm ready. Start the test."
"I'm running diagnostics on the system."
At the other end of the lab sat the ship. In general it looked like a large silver bar that had been polished to a mirror finish. The front tapered in a wedge and the top and bottom flowed together at the sides to form small down swept wings. It was about 150 feet in length and about 50 feet in width in the back. At the moment it sat on a giant cradle that held it about 10 feet off the floor of the lab. If everything went well, the cradle was about to become useless and it would soon rest on its own short landing legs.
"Diagnostics complete. Everything checks out."
"Everything checked out fine last time too."
"Well then cross your fingers. Beginning first stage powerup."
In the heart of the ship the small power plant that I had worked on for so long woke from its sleep. It had been supplying power for the life support, but now was the time for it to begin its true job. Inside, matter began to be separated into its basic build blocks. Neutrons, electrons and all the other macro components were broken down into the quarks that were needed for the next phase. Each type of quark was focused into a stream and each stream was split in half and sent its separate way. Deep in the heart of the plant the various streams were recombined and forced to reassemble. Now however, one set was put together backwards from its neighbor. As the newly created atoms sped on their way to the reaction chamber, the atoms that had been friends' moments ago were now deadly enemies. Inside the reaction chamber, matter flashed to energy and was captured and fed to the hungry systems within the ship.
"Power output at three percent... four... five. Holding steady at five percent."
"So far so good. That was the easy part"
"Engaging antigrav field. Running field to five percent as per plan."
There was no visible change, but if everything was working according to spec the ship had just gotten five percent lighter. An energy field should have formed that hugged the skin of the ship that would warp space in such a way to negate the effects of gravity.
"The field seems to be holding and I'm getting feedback from the sensors this time. Its oscillating, but now I can program the control systems to react and control it."
"Keep it at five percent until you get the first rough control parameters set."
The sensor array was designed to detect variations in the space-time field around the ship and let the control systems adjust the field to account for changes. If the array didn't work, the least change in the gravity gradient around the ship would cause ripples in the field and it would begin to oscillate. If the oscillation got big enough the ship would tear itself apart.
"It's damping correctly this time, the sensors are working fine."
"Ok, run it up to fifteen percent and start to fine tune the control systems."
"Increasing to fifteen percent."
Now the ship should have lost a little less then half its weight. If everything held it would become weightless when we ran the field up to about thirty percent. The effect was not linear and I'd also designed a lot of extra capacity into the system. At full strength and using the full power of the power plant, the Sunbeam was theoretically capable of holding its own against a small neutron star.
"A little more oscillation, but its under control. I'm getting a second approximation for the control parameters."
"When you're ready, run it up to thirty."
"Ok... Hummmmm, ahhhh. Got it. Ok, increasing to field strength to thirty percent."
I started walking toward the front of the ship and stopped when I was about ten feet away. At this distance I could begin to feel the effects of the field.
"How is it doing?"
"Field is at thirty percent and holding. There is some minor oscillation, but nothing we didn't expect at this stage. I should have no problem damping it out when I get the rest of the sensors on line and have time to fine tune the control program."
"You ready for the acid test?"
"When ever you are."
"Ok, drop the cradle." As I watched the cradle that the ship rested upon began to lower into the floor. As soon as I could see light between the cradle and the ship, I gave a small shout. "Hot damn, got it!"
Held there by its antigrav field, the Sunbeam floated above the floor of the lab. I stepped to the front of the ship and reached out my hand to touch it. As I got close, it looked like it moved away from me. "Did it just move?"
"Yes, not enough of the sensor array is on-line yet. It isn't reacting to variations very quickly and your mass caused an oscillation in the field. The ship shied away from your local mass as it compensated."
I backed away a few feet and stood watching the ship. "Ok, that's about enough for now. Extend the landing gear and bring it down." Under the ship a series of short legs swung out from the bottom and angled out from the sides and front.
"I'm dropping the field strength for a moment. That should give it a nudge towards the floor."
As I watched, the ship began to sink slowly. The lab was airless so it would not decelerate from the gentle pull it had gotten when Penny had varied the field strength. As the landing legs touched the floor, I felt the pull as the field dropped to zero and the ship came to a rest.
"Touchdown! Houston, the Sunbeam has landed."
"Very funny. Houston would shit purple bricks if they ever saw this thing."
"Well, that's their problem. If they would stop playing around with those flying bricks, they might start getting somewhere again."
"Well our problem is to get this thing flight ready. You ready to begin work on installing the main drive?"
"I'm ready, but I'd rather take a break for awhile."
"Got other plans? Moonlighting as a dating computer again?"
"Are you ever going to let me live that down?"
"Nope! Just what do you have planned?"
"Well I have something in mind for Bob and I wanted to devote my attention to him for a short time."
I thought it over for a moment. I'd done the preliminary work on creating a gate at the far end of the lab. Now that the ship was capable of being moved, I could complete the gate in short order and we could tow the ship through the gate using Penny's remotes if needed. "Ok, go harass Bob for awhile. I'll just stay here and slave away while you have your fun."
"Phhhhtttttt... Humans, can't live with 'em, can't trade them in for something with a sense of humor."