Geeks in Space
Chapter 4: The Jovian Jungles are Missing

Copyright© 2011 by Sea-Life

Rob may have taken ownership of the Pai Lung, but he didn't buy the shipyard at Nauru. That was owned by McKesson Aerospace, the company that had been created to build and operate it. Plans were in the works for an actual space dock, but at the moment the shipyard at Nauru was the only place in the world where his ship could get itself refitted and resupplied. They were renting the space for now, as part of the support contract that paid for the refit and resupply. Rob was sure he was getting outrageously good deals on everything. Andy really wanted him to succeed, and so did the rest of his family and business associates.

Contract or not, they were due to be evicted in sixty days, because McKesson Aerospace was set to begin building a new ship for the European space Agency, to be used for Lunar and inner system exploration. She was only going to be two thirds the size of the Pai Lung, and would be built in half the time.

They were scrambling to get things tested, tightened up and resupplied. Their two transports were going through refits as well. Some of this involved retuning and modifying some of the systems based on what they had learned during the Mars expedition, but most of that had been done during the trip and only needed documenting. Some were new.

One of the things they thought to do was exponentially expand the capabilities of the fabrication shop. They were going to be too far away to ask for someone to send a spare part if they discovered a need. They doubled the size of the shop and added a dozen more large tools for cutting, bending, and shaping metal. Rob's own Princess Nuts & Bolts took care of most of that. She was as familiar as anyone with machining parts and the equipment needed. Brian Conroy had quite a bit of experience as well, but most of his was from working in the family business. They fabricated the parts for those huge trash compactors that they used in malls and shopping centers. Between the two of them they had a handle on what would be needed to rebuild just about anything on the ship, with the possible exception of the fusion reactor cores.

They were actually able to beat the sixty day requirement by seventeen days, and did it by doing the last of the resupply from orbit. What did it matter whether the supply transports were landing at Nauru or in our landing bays?

Rob got to do more duty as a transport pilot, but only because he put his foot down as the owner. He was probably not going to get much chance once they got where they were going, and he really liked piloting the transports. One thing that had been modified pretty heavily on both transports, as well as the ship itself were the gravity drive maneuvering control engines. The problem with a single point gravity drive is that there is only one point of reference for controlling movement.

The Gravity drive gives the entire ship total control in the x, y, and z planes, but only for the ship as a whole. Unlike aircraft on Earth, you do not use the actual edges of the ship as control surfaces to allow for banking, turning or spinning. To accomplish this, smaller maneuvering gravity engines were used. There were two rings of them at the nose and stern of the ship as well as dozens of others situated at key locations up and down the length of the ship. The two transports had similar arrangements, and between these engines and the control software which had been developed and tuned over the course of our time on and in orbit around Mars, had become very sophisticated. As long as we didn't exceed the limits of the inertial compensators, the ships, and the transports especially, could do anything any earth-based fighter could do, as far as maneuvers went, and quite a few things they couldn't.

Symbolically, Yuri Stepanovich and Rob flew as pilots on the last transport flights up to the ship prior to breaking orbit. As the two transports approached the landing bay, Rob called out on the system wide channel that would reach everything except personal Q-taps and restricted subnets.

"Hawking, Hawking this is Viking One, requesting clearance to land in docking bay two."

"Viking One, this is the Stephen W. Hawking, you have clearance to land." Came Victor Emanoff's voice over the same channel.

That was it, Rob's understated way of telling the world what he had named the ship, and to offer a quite measure of respect and a salute to the man all of them in the labs thought of as the godfather of us all.

"Hawking, Hawking, this is Beagle Two, requesting clearing to land in docking bay one." Yuri called out in the same fashion as soon as the channel was clear.

"Beagle Two, Beagle Two, Hawking grants clearance. Welcome aboard."

Renaming the two transports after two of the Martian probes was just a way to give the ship and crew a small sense of history.

They were barely on board and still in the transports when a new message came over the system-wide channel again.

"All Hands, All hands, Report to stations and prepare to get under way." It was Owen Gardner, the chief navigator.

Rob was changed and on the bridge an hour later, and it was his turn again to break into the system wide channel.

"Attention all ground stations and ships in space. This is the Exploratory vessel Stephen W. Hawking, breaking orbit."

There wasn't enough orbital traffic yet to make such declarations necessary, but the traffic was increasing and the ships were being built. The exchanges would change, solidify into formalities eventually, but for now it was just a proud announcement to a somewhat wide-eyed world.

If you use the 'average distance from the Sun' figures most commonly used, Mars is 48 million miles further from the Sun than the Earth. Jupiter is 390 million miles further from the sun than the Earth. This calculates out to Jupiter being a distance of 8.125 times further from Earth than Mars. This didn't mean that it was going to take 8.125 times as long to get there. The Hawking would be able to really build up some speeds on a run this long. The second generation of inertial compensators were also improved and more finely tuned. Their acceleration curve was going to be steeper, as would be the deceleration curve when we got there.

The Hawking didn't have a near-optimal orbital alignment as the Pai Lung did for the Mars trip, but it wasn't at the far end of the bad spectrum either. five months out and four months back was what was anticipated. They would gain a considerable closing of the distance between Earth and Jupiter in the six weeks they anticipated being 'on station'. The crew were once again the beneficiaries of prearranged entertainment broadcasts from Earth. For now that meant movies, television and sports, mostly baseball and soccer, as well as European basketball leagues. American football and basketball would kick in during the trip out. It was a mixed bag and depended on what you liked, if you even liked sports at all.

They would be watching perhaps the world's most extensive and expensive Olympics broadcast on the return trip, as the coming year was an Olympic one. They were getting feeds from pretty much every broadcast outfit in the world that was covering it. There was a lot of international flavor in the crew, though it was still predominantly an English speaking one. The Spanish, Russian and Chinese broadcasts would be widely watched. Everything else would have to be defined as a niche market.

A month out, the Beagle Two transport got moved over to the other landing bay. With the two transports doubled up in one bay, there was an area large enough to stage soccer, arena football and basketball events. They had their own stage, and those with a mind to were able to stage plays, perform recitals, and tell jokes. The open mike night for comedians became quite popular. Rob even tried it one night, but I discovered quickly, almost as quickly as the audience, that he had no comedic talent.

Over a beer later at the Cantina, the ship's carefully monitored and regulated bar, Fred Wassermann had the best quip at Rob's expense.

"Rob, we who know and love you are sure that you have some comedic talent, even Wendy thinks so. Sadly, humor is hard to detect at the quantum level."

Fred could afford to make jokes, he was one of the people who had gotten a lot of compliments over his open mike night efforts. Rob took the ribbing with a smile and moved on.

Rob did discover some actual adequacy on the stage, when Mickey Brooks talked him into taking a small part in a play the systems crew was putting on. Unlike some of the plays by well known authors being performed by the theater enthusiasts, this was a home-brewed script, written by one of the electricians during the Mars trip. It was a farce revolving around the Martians who spent their time cleverly avoiding the pesky Earthling visitors while at the same time behaving in ways that represented the basest and crudest behavior of people on Earth. Rob had a very minor part, a precondition of his participation, and only one line of dialog, in which he said in as annoyingly British an accent as he could manage,

"Water, water, water! They're so obsessed with finding water on Mars, while all we are hoping to find is a good pint of bitter!"

Yes, the entire thing was just that much of a groaner, and the audiences ate it up!

Perhaps Rob and others focused their thoughts on the social side of the journey out because the actual work time was so comparatively quiet and boring. Bridge duties were very regimented and fraught with ritual and formula, Rob found. Really, that was the most effective way to make sure procedures were done correctly and things were not missed. Drills and exercises occupied most of our time when they weren't actually staring at a monitor or reading data on their suit comm displays.

The big difference between running exercises and drills was that drills were designed to imprint procedures into you thoroughly enough that you could do them almost without thinking. Exercises were done to continually remind you that thinking was required anyway. At least half the emergency exercises presented situations that could not be solved by sticking absolutely to the learned routines or procedures. Rob used to curse the fiendish natures of those who devised the exercises, at length and in detail. Until Captain Emanoff appointed him to the executive committee that designed them.

The highlight of Rob's command crew time happened nine weeks out when they were 'hit' by an object larger than the typical micro-bodies that were continually deflected by the ship's shields. 'Hit' meant that the object impacted the gravitic deflector shield and was of a size or had a velocity sufficient to require the grav shield to draw reserve power from the shield generators when it was deflected. The power draw was at a high enough rate to cause the alarm circuit to trip. Analysis of the automatic sensor recordings, tripped by the energy flare of the object being vaporized against the shields, suggested that the body's composition had been the typical carbonaceous type most common among asteroidal bodies.

This was the extend of their interaction with the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter during the trip out. Unlike in the movies, the asteroid belt was still mostly empty space, and not a lot of dodging was involved, even at the speed they were traveling at. What they encountered might not have even been an actual asteroidal body. It could have been in a free orbit, or one of those rare hypothetical free bodies from outside the solar system completely. Not having caught it on the sensors prior to impact, there was no way for them to tell. Odds were it was asteroidal, but that was it. All they were left with was spectrographic data and percentages.

The lab crew painted Jupiter and its moons pretty thoroughly with their sensors as they traveled. Every bit of data acquired on the way was potentially useful. They were also using the sensors to find and closely track all the smaller moons of Jupiter. They were going to have to keep themselves out of the way of all these smaller moons as the ship moved in and around the orbits of the larger moons and the planet itself. There were a total of sixty three known moons orbiting Jupiter, and when the Hawking began her return to Earth we wanted the same number to be there.

They were gathering as much data as they could before they got close because they were not absolutely certain what the intense levels of radiation and magnetic interference from Jupiter would do to the sensors. Rob's theories suggested there would be little in the way of interference, unless there were quantum level interference sources that we couldn't detect remotely. All that data came to him, and he spent at least half his working time ignoring it.

Rob spent the bulk of his 'free' duty hours in the lab playing with the little random blips that his research sensors caught now and then. That and just thinking. He had to drop his senses and his thoughts back into that place where his quantum fields lived and see what he could see, but it wasn't easy to find that place.

There have been a lot of attempts, since quantum effects were first observed and quantum theories proposed, to explain existence in a way that made these quantum effects understandable. There were still some theories out there which offered possibilities that Rob could support to varying degrees. String theory, at least the modern equivalent of it, was one, but even it didn't feel right, so he chased those things around in his dreams too, and in his lab.

Rob had managed to wrangle some observable quantum phenomenon into performing in a repeatable and understandable fashion, but he still couldn't explain it at a level that neatly tied it into the rest of human understanding of how the universe works.

"Hi! My name is Wendy Fellowes, and I'm a genius' girlfriend."

Okay, there was no support group or twelve step program on board, but sometimes I felt like I needed one.

Space was an environment in which Rob seemed to thrive. A part of him seemed more alive. Bloomed, I would be tempted to say. But that same part of him, once opened up, seemed to keep him from sleeping easily and quietly. On Earth, he had 'active dreams', beyond what I would call normal, though I'm obviously not qualified to draw conclusions from that observation. In space, those nights became much more frequent. He became physically less energetic during the day. Coming to rest more quickly, often content to sit perfectly still and reflective for hours at a time. He was the complete opposite once he was asleep. His dreams were filled with flashes of thought, glimpses of ideas, motes of theory and islands of unexplained images. In his dreams he chased these things far more physically than he did while awake. It was almost becoming a danger to sleep in the same bed with him.

All I could do was offer him encouragement and reassurance when I felt he needed it, and move to the other bed when it got bad. I was learning to get by on much less sleep than I had though. Thank God for that! I woke every morning before Rob and slid into bed with him, so I would be in his arms when he woke up. Rob was very often quite glad to see me when he woke up, and I was then quite glad I had been there. There are sacrifices and rewards to everything in life, and Rob Young, awake, energized and horny in the morning was one of my rewards!

Aside from my self-appointed Rob Young observation duties, I spent most of the outbound trip working with Saalih Jaffre and Coretta Ramirez designing a new tool for Europa. We designed, built and were dying to test the solar system's first gravitic ice boring tool. We had a platform, very much looking like a missile, that projected twin tube shaped gravitic fields in front of it. The outer gravitic tube served as a barrier and support while the second field served as a cutting head and conduit for high yield infrared radiation fed through a series of de-couplers that siphoned and converted the energy straight from the platform's fusion reactor. Thanks to embedded q-tap controls and data transmitters, our boring tool was wireless.

I was very sad that Jocelin Walsh was not with us, and yet I understood that there had been an uncomfortable tension between the three of us. I was able to relax a little without worrying about having to compete for Rob's attention. I occasionally caught a hint of jealousy here and there, but as often as not it was over some work accomplishment rather than over my status as girlfriend of the ship's owner.

I took more advantage of the recreational activities at first than Rob did. I ran and swam daily as well as singing in the ship's choir. It became apparent that Rob was falling out of the habit of getting any exercise, so I stepped in and along with the MIT gravy geeks, Arne Walker and Yuri Stepanovich, got him back on track. He ran with me every morning, and we swam together a couple times a week. We both signed up for meditation and martial arts classes, taught by one of the cooks, an old hand at both skills.

I was the one who talked him into trying open mike night. That was a mistake, though in a sense it worked out well, because it let people see just how human Rob could be. I talked him into joining the choir with me, once he was done with his play. He had a fine voice, though he had never learned how to read music. It was a sign of just how much different Rob's mind was from most of us when he taught himself to sight read sheet music in three weeks.

Getting dressed down by one's girlfriend for being a slacker is embarrassing enough, but then to be accused of being too competitive, practically in the same breath, is too much. Rob had been letting the physical side of life slide a little, and getting back into running and swimming was a no-brainer, once he'd had his head removed from his ass. The other social activities had been great, minus the aforementioned open mike night.

It was not Rob's fault if he took to the meditation and tae kwon do classes like a duck to water. The instructor, or Sabum, 'Chesty' Price was, for a cook, one hell of an old soldier. That was the impression Rob got. He suspected Chesty was hired as much for those skills as he was for his cooking. He was also one of those guys, like Victor Emanoff, and even Doctor Fylakas back on Earth, that struck Rob as older than their appearance.

Both disciplines were just the thing for him. He needed to focus, and both were all about focus. Rob began using the meditation techniques to help him in the lab when he was working on the mystery blips.

With six weeks still to go before they were in their initial orbit around Callisto, Rob decided he needed a more isolated environment in which to examine his blips. He went looking for someone in the lab who could build a platform on which he could replicate the Hawking's power core and drive assembly, as well as duplicates of all his research sensor arrays and diagnostic tools.

In the end most of the physical designs were stolen from the Europa ice borer that Wendy, Saalih and Coretta had designed. Their design already included the drive and fusion combination Rob needed, and he swapped out their de-couplers and grav field generators for his sensor arrays and diagnostic gear. He had to double the size of the entire thing in any case, because the ice borer didn't include any room for passengers. Rob felt a need to be isolated with his gear, not watching it remotely. As that bit of redesign was being done in the modeler, he had a thought.

"You know Wendy, if you guys took my mods and extended them a bit, keeping things in this missile shape you started with, you would have a pretty handy ice boring-submarine-kinda ship."

Wendy looked for a moment like she'd been hit by a bus, but then Rob got a grin and a kiss, followed by an affectionate punch in the arm.

"You caught us thinking small I guess. We'll build both, just in case we find an environment the 'submarine' will be at home in."

Rob's Sensor Isolation and Signal Intercept platform was enthusiastically abbreviated to SISI, and everyone immediately began calling it the 'sissy cart'. Funny thing though how Rob couldn't find anyone who wanted to spend a second shift in her. Not that he was looking for volunteers. Whatever it was he thought he was looking for, nobody else on board would recognize it. He wasn't even sure that he would.

Rob got five weeks of solid observations in before he had to stop. The interference from the Jovian system was starting to wash out everything in a sea of static and stray energy.

The lab crew spent the last two weeks staring at the sensors and grabbing every bit of data they could. Finally, the strengthening of the gravitic drives output needed for deceleration, and the increased energy output of the inertial compensators kicking in started washing out the sensor inputs and they had to shut down the high definition data capture units and let the nav systems have most of the remaining bandwidth.

The Hawking pulled into a parking orbit around Callisto within ten minutes of the estimated arrival time. They could have fudged their deceleration and adjustment vectors to put themselves there on the second, but Captain Emanoff said that being so precise was an easy spoof to spot, and sent the wrong signals to those back home.

The folks back home were getting the signals too. Big time! Once they were in a stable orbit inside the Jovian EM field, they were able to tune the Q-Net transceiver nodes to compensate, and their signal, which had been degrading as they got closer and closer to Jupiter, was once again back to its normal self.

There is more of this chapter...
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