No Good Deed
Copyright© 2019 by Lumpy
I was up and off to the office Wednesday before the girls were up, not that there was much for me to do at this point. We’d done several test runs of our presentation, and everything was in Douglass’ hands.
“You’re here early,” I said when I walked into the cleared area of one of the factory floors which we’d set up for the presentation.
“We notice a slight fluctuation on the last trial run yesterday. It wasn’t that noticeable, but I wanted to run some tests before we showed it off.”
“Did we do too many runs through?”
“No. We’ve run this up to full power dozens of times so far, one more wouldn’t matter. It could have been an error in our analytics and not the battery itself for all we know, but I thought it would be best to check it over anyway.”
I left him to it and headed off to find Ted and Marcus. We more or less made ourselves look busy since we’d already done everything that needed to be done. About an hour later, a rep from MilTech and four people I assumed were from NASA showed up.
We made the requisite small talk and then headed off to the presentation. We had a row of chairs about fifty feet back from a small platform we’d set up, flanked by large screens showing performance data from the battery. Two of the NASA guys were administrators, and I wasn’t sure if the data would mean much to them. While I guess you had to send some of the guys who could sign off on purchases, this wasn’t going to be much to see except data output, and I was pretty sure they were going to be fairly bored.
The other two, however, were engineers. One was a team lead on power systems, and the other was the head engineer on the probe they were considering using the battery on.
“Good morning,” Douglass said, stepping in front of the group. “I know you’ve seen our proposal papers and the basic technical details of the new battery. In short, this is a solid-state battery that isn’t as volatile as those currently in use, thanks to the synthetic Perovskite we have developed. This helps make them lightweight and should cut the weight you allot for batteries on launches by sixty percent. In addition to weight, the new material takes a charge at nearly seven times the speed of your current batteries, allowing them to more reliably recharge as needed. Finally, they should give you almost four times as much storage capacity as the current batteries you use, allowing you to either use that additional power storage or cut down the number of batteries needed, further lowering your launch weight.”
He turned and pointed at the screens, which had come to life and were starting to show data input from the batteries.
“Here you can see we are loading the batteries with the same energy output as the current solar panels you are using now. As you see, the batteries are taking in a higher percentage of the power, removing it, or at least limiting it, as a bottleneck in your power systems chain.”
As he spoke, numbers for current storage of the battery climbed displayed alongside power being outputted to the batteries. He waited a few minutes while the numbers on the screen continued to climb.
“While it will still be a little while for the battery to pass the load level of your current batteries, you’ll see it is getting there much quicker.”
One of the admin guys started whispering to the engineers, who whispered answers back. From their body language, I’d have to say their report to him was fairly positive. I was allowing myself to relax when I heard the first sound of something out of place.
I’m not sure when I first noticed it since it started so gradually, but at some point I definitely noticed a buzzing sound coming from the area of the battery. As I started to walk to Douglass, so I could quietly ask him about it, I noticed the screens showed a sudden, substantial decrease in the power consumption of the batteries.
Douglass clearly noticed it and had started to turn, and head towards the battery when I started smelling a sharp ozone smell. After he had taken one step, I noticed the buzzing sound grow significantly louder, a few sharp pops emanated from the battery, and the ozone smell was joined by a charred smell.
I’m not sure why, but something made me reach out and grab Douglass’s arm, and pull him backward. I must have pulled with too much power, because I managed to slightly lift him off his feet, and he stumbled back towards the spectators, who had started to get to their feet as they saw Douglass get manhandled.
As I turned to follow after him, both to make sure he was okay as he hit the floor in front of the chairs, and to give myself distance from the battery, all hell broke loose. The battery let out a whoomp sound, there was a sharp flash of light, and heat radiated out as it exploded.
A piece of something snaked past my neck, leaving a burning feeling, accompanied by the smell of burning flesh. The blast wasn’t strong enough to make me stumble, but my hand shot up to my neck, and I could feel wetness when I pressed my hand to my skin.
Technicians ran past with foam extinguishers and started dousing the smoking ruin of the battery and shattered screens. I reached down and pulled Douglass up while looking at the people in suits, whose mouths were hanging open.
“Are you all ok?”
They didn’t reply, so I repeated the questions.
“Yeah,” the guy from MilTech, said after a beat, “you’re bleeding!”
“Move your hand,” Emily said, who’d rushed over as soon as she got over her own shock.
Pulling my hand away, she looked at the wound and giving me a once over to make sure I was in one piece.
“I got nicked by something, I’ll be ok,” I told her.
“I thought you said this thing was more stable?” One of the engineers said.
“It is. We’ve put it through this test dozens of times.”
“Folks, I think clearly this is the end of our presentation. Our friend from MilTech will get you back to Houston while we figure out what’s going on.”
Emily finally decided I wasn’t going to die immediately, and headed to one side of the factory. I could see she was going for a first aid box.
They all headed towards the exit, some turning their heads back to look at the smoking prototype. I grabbed the MilTech guy and slowed him up.
“Once they are over their surprise, start sounding them out about letting us get another shot at this, once we determine the cause of the failure. Tell them we’d be happy to share a report of what happened with them, regardless if it shows a problem with our base design, some technical flaw, or something else. Tell Aaron I’ll call him later today and we’ll see what we have to do to salvage this.”
He nodded once and headed after the retreating officials.
“Are you ok?” I asked Douglass
“Yeah. I ... I don’t know what could have happened.”
“You said there was some kind of fluctuation, do you think that’s part of it?”
“Probably, but I have no idea what caused the fluctuation. We’re going to have to put all the pieces of that thing back together and try and find out what happened.”
Emily had returned with some gauze and medical tape and had started tending my wound when Jawarski burst through the door at a jog. Since the facility had controlled access and widespread video surveillance, she usually just hung out near the security offices and let me have more space when I was here.
“What the hell?” she said as she ran up.
“Don’t worry, it looks to be some kind of malfunction. The prototype failed, and since it’s a battery, that means it exploded. It wasn’t nefarious or anything.”
“Are we sure about that,” she said to Douglass.
“Fairly, but like I told Caspian here, we’ll do a full diagnostics on everything until we figure out what happened. If there’s a systemic problem, we don’t want to power up the other two prototypes until we’re sure they won’t fail catastrophically also.”
“See, nothing happened.”
“And yet here you stand bleeding.”
“It’s practically stopped.”
I pulled my hand away, and the blood had already turned thick and sticky. I knew she was mostly giving me grief since she was well aware I’d heal a wound like that quickly. We, however, couldn’t discuss that in front of Douglass or the technicians. It occurred to me that, if I came out to the facilities over the next month, I’d probably have to wear a bandage over that area to hide the fact that it had healed so quickly.
“I probably need to go see a doctor about this, just to be sure. I’ll get out of your hair so you guys can figure out what happened.”
“I just can’t believe it failed on the presentation. A perfect chance to show all those jerks I was right about this.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll get with Ted and Jonathan. I’m sure we can talk our way into another presentation. This can’t be the first time new tech crashed and burned, so to speak.”
He just grunted and went to join the technicians around the blackened prototype.
“You don’t actually want to see a doctor, do you?” Emily said quietly as we walked out.
“No, but if I were anyone else, I’d probably need to, so it’s best if we make them all think that’s what we’re doing.”
“So then where are we going?”
“Back to the hotel. That way I’m off site, and I can start making calls, and see if we can fix this mess.”
As we left, I looked back at Douglass, who had his hands on the top of his head, and looked as exasperated as a person could.
I spent the rest of the day, and most of the next making phone calls to everyone involved, trying to salvage the disaster and somehow swing another test. By Friday, it was out of my hands and mostly up to Ted and Aaron from MilTech.
Jawarski had some stuff to do with the security company, since they were starting to take on outside contracts to hopefully offset the gigantic bill I was racking up. They left me in the care of their people.
That worked out, as I was pretty much tired of being on the phone. I had something to do, anyway. Instead of going to work, I went with the girls to the center and helped out there. It was long and tiring, but rewarding in a way not even working at the company was.
When we went back to the hotel to pack up, I got us all together in Charlie and Sandy’s room, minus the security people.
“So how did this week go?”
“It was amazing,” Sandy said enthusiastically. “You guys have done so much. Seeing it in person makes me want to spread these places even more now.”
“So you’re still determined about that then?”
“Yeah,” Charlie said. “I know it might be a long while and there are a lot of hurdles, but if we could bring one of these to our town, I know it will make a difference. I’ve done volunteer work at a clinic and at a food shelter, and while both of those were great, what you guys are doing is the next step past that.”
“If you can’t manage it though-” Sandy said, her head hanging slightly and her voice at just above a whisper.
“I talked to the girls about this, and there are challenges we’ll have to get past, but I do think it’s doable. Maybe not immediately, but we can start working towards it now. Like I said, the first hurdle is for you guys to still do good in school, and have time to focus on getting past the other hurdles.”
“Yes, but it’s going to require a little ... trust on your part.”
“How so,” Sandy asked, suddenly sounding skeptical.
“Because, while I can explain to you what we can do and what to expect, there’s going to be stuff I can’t explain to you. There will also be parts that will be difficult to believe. I’ll understand if you guys want to pass, we just wanted to give you the option.”
“What would we have to do,” Sandy asked, a glance shooting towards Charlie in concern.
“We have a doctor friend who will give you both a once over to make sure there aren’t going to be negative reactions, although right now I can say I’m pretty sure you won’t have any. After that, you take a single shot. I will warn you, there will be a twenty-four hour period where you get very sick, sort of like extreme food poisoning or the flu. It’s what happens as your body adjusts to the injection. I won’t lie, that part is particularly nasty and why we’ll have to do this by early tomorrow to give you time to bounce back and head back to school on Sunday. The good news is, after twenty-four hours, you’ll feel better than you’ve ever felt in your life.”
“What do you mean ‘better,’” Charlie asked.
“Healthier. As time goes on, you’ll find your health getting steadily better. Allergies will disappear, your metabolism will speed up, it’ll be easier to put on muscle, and you’ll also find it easier to retain and process information in school. The retention of information and increased ability to learn is the main reason I thought about offering this to you since that’ll help you do better in school with less study. Besides that, you won’t get the cold any more, won’t get the flu anymore ... basically, you won’t get sick again. There are a few side effects, however.”
“For one, you won’t be able to get drunk or high ever again.”
“What happens if we drink?”