Geeks in Space
Chapter 5: Out of the Deep Dark Empty
Copyright© 2011 by Sea-Life
There were some surprises waiting when the Hawking got home. The first of them was Infinity Station. Arne Walker and Morrie Scheufelt had gotten NASA, Roskosmos, CNSA and ESA cooperation, under UN auspices, to join forces and finance and build Earth's first space dock. Of course, the state of things being what they were, Obsidian Aerospace was the contractor hired to do the actual construction. The work was only 40% complete at this point, but the basic dock functionality was already up and running as was the Reception bay and its associated restaurant and lounge, called Eternity. The amenities had been left for last, in an effort to have it ready in time for our return.
Remember Space Station V, the space station in the old Stanley Kubrik classic 2001: a Space Odyssey? Well picture that pair of wheels, but with the second wheel not connected physically to the first, but instead locked together by something new, the GravLoc™ tractor field!. The brainchild of Dave Hamlin, it was yet the latest development out of the MIT Gravy Geeks that expanded the practical applications of gravitic field generation.
The Hawking's navcom tied right into the station's docking routines – again by design, they knew The Hawking was coming and knew what she had. Under Infinity's control she nosed right up to the hub and then the second wheel slid in behind us and blink! They found themselves wrapped in a gravity shield! Infinity Station had been built with the Hawking's dimensions in mind, and then 'padded' another 30%, for a little growing room. If a ship needed a serious refit, an Earth normal atmosphere and shirtsleeve environment could be pumped in, in a matter of a day. As it was, even the aluminum hull could be checked if need be. A platform with a docking sleeve, reminiscent of the movable jetways that they used at airports, extended out to match up with the forward access port.
When they walked out of the docking sleeve into the reception bay, they were met by the four 'Lords of Infinity' as they were being called by the media these days, Arne Walker, Morrie Scheufelt, Alexei Baranov and Chen Hsu. The four of them were sporting very big grins, and there were hugs all around.
"Quite the surprise!" Rob said to Arne. "I'm not sure how you managed it, given all the feeds we were getting from the media."
"Call it the world's last great conspiracy." Morrie answered. "We filtered all your feeds before they hit the Q-net so we could have our fun."
"It took some serious negotiations with a bunch of governments and networks to get approval." Alexei added. "But there seems to be a lot of good will floating around this little globe now that the people living on it see themselves moving beyond it into a larger reality."
There was a small ceremony, more for the folks on the planet below than anything else, celebrating the docking with Infinity Station. The Hawking was officially the first ship to use the new facility, and a plaque was unveiled commemorating our arrival. Morrie Scheufelt spoke representing the station, and he was something of a compelling speaker. The current Secretary-General of the United Nations, Huelwen Madoc, spoke, in English tinged with a lively Welsh accent, and then, fortunately for Rob, it was Captain Emanoff who was asked to speak. Finally they all stood for a group picture. When it was done, Arne and the rest of the Infinity brain trust grabbed Wendy and Rob and a few others and whisked them off to a private conference room.
Rob got to sit and drink a cup of coffee in a private room just off the Eternity Cafe with the four of them as well as Wendy, Captain Emanoff and the Gravy Geek crew members, Yuri, Nat, Traci Audra and Chester Magill. They talked about the trip, the sights, the feel of it all and in turn they got caught up on the past year on Earth. Rob discovered he was woefully out of touch with the events and happenings on Earth compared to the rest of them. Most everyone else had at least a sense of what had gone on during our absence, and except for the Olympic results, I was mostly unaware.
While they were getting the VIP treatment, the 'loot' from Jupiter was being offloaded by the crew. All the soil and rock samples were being routed to the new labs at Aristarchus Base. It was going to be the initial drop off point for all extraterrestrial samples, in no small part due to concerns over contamination, 'foreign organisms' and other even more paranoid worries. There didn't really seem to be anything to worry about. Later more focused missions to the icy moons of Jupiter could concentrate on looking for life deep in the wet crusts of Europa and Ganymedede. As for the Hawking, they had found no signs of life whatsoever.
They might have had to sit through an endless series of ceremonies and parades once they got back to Earth, but the crew was a bit too international and widely scattered for that, and other than a very quick and unofficial get-together at MIT for the Gravy Geek contingent, the celebrations on Earth were mostly private and personal affairs for each person, once they got to where they thought of as home.
Rob discovered there wasn't really a place on Earth that he immediately thought of as 'home', not even Fort Dodge. After a brief stopover in Boston to check with the McKesson Group legal and financial teams, whose offices were there, it was time to decide where to go.
Wendy headed back home to Port Angeles, and Rob promised to meet her there in a couple days. Arne was going to take him to see his new and improved SISI, though Rob had plans for another name.
The new ship was small enough to have been built in a traditional shipyard, and Arne and Morrie picked a small outfit with a name Rob fell in love with immediately. Erie Precision Fabricators was in Conneaut, Ohio. The Lake Erie location was unimportant, but the area was rich in experienced metalworkers and it was out of the way.
"I kinda just picked it out of a hat. The days of hardship from the collapse of the steel and coal industries in the great lakes area are not completely over, and since this kind of work isn't location sensitive anymore, I wanted to pick a place with a depressed economy." Arne said.
They flew in that afternoon and met Tom Standaahl, the Project supervisor. Tom was retired navy out of the Norfolk Naval Yard, and had spent thirty years supervising the building of a variety of naval vessels. He was a loud, grinning bowling ball with legs, but Arne swore he had eyes in the back of his head and a BS detector that would make any college professor proud.
"We're doing our own training for all the new stuff, and stealing people from MIT as fast as they can graduate them." Morrie said. "Your little flying space lab is our proof-of-concept craft, and once we've got it up and flying, we'll start fielding orders."
"We've fattened the bank accounts of some of the original lab staff from Nauru, hiring them to train people here to work with all the new technologies. Some of our people will be moving into full time teaching/training positions down the road and then we'll contract back the training services to the McKesson folks, both on Nauru and elsewhere." Arne said. "The McKesson people are sure not shy about sharing the wealth."
"When you stop and think about how well they must be doing, with all the technological and financial assets they have control of, it shouldn't be surprising. And don't forget, they're privately held. They have stockholders, but they don't have to worry about squeezing every drop of profit out of everything they do."
"So you're going to compete head-to-head with the McKesson folks out on Nauru?" I asked.
"Well, not so much as you'd think." Arne answered. "They've got five years worth of orders already backlogged, and they're building two more construction platforms just like the one we used for the Pai Lung. If they stick just to governmental requests they'll never run out of work."
"We plan on sticking strictly to the commercial and scientific crowds." Morrie added. "MIT is third on our list after you. They want a flying classroom and are willing to pay for it."
"It seems that there are quite a few recently wealthy alums making substantial donations to the Physics department these days." Arne said with a grin.
"Imagine that." Rob grinned back. Considering what he had given to Carnegie Mellon, and imagining what Arne, Morrie, Yuri and the rest of the Gravy Geeks might have given to MIT, the physics department must be swimming in cash!
"We hear they're negotiating to lease some lab space at Aristarchus Base." Arne added.
The conversation stopped there, because they finally walked out into the fabrication hangar and there was Rob's new ship!
She was a third shorter than the Hawking's transports, but she was half again as wide and twice as deep. She didn't have as big of a cargo door either, only two standard personnel hatches and a utility hatch that could handle large equipment. She would have almost looked like a Borg cube from the old Star Trek movies, but she was a little longer in one dimension, and her corners were deeply rounded. She also had a much smoother hull than a Borg cube, except for two huge flat spots at each end of the long axis where Rob could slap on external modules for power or whatever he needed. She was a truck.
"Three more weeks and she'll be ready for space trials." Tom said with pride in his voice.
They spent an afternoon going over the plans, but the only changes were the new equipment Rob had thought of including since sending them the original specs and a few slight modifications, needed to coexist with some of the newly developing standards being built around the GravLoc system. Rob found sources for the new equipment via the Q-net and ordered it 'live' the same way. The purchase was tied to the unique id of my Q-tap. They spent just a little time then making sure they all agreed on how and where things would be added.
"What about Dave's tractor beam setup?" Rob asked Arne and Morrie on the flight back to Boston. "Can we retrofit the Hawking with his system?"
They had a five way holo-conference with Dave and his crew as well as the Infinity refit teams to make sure they were all on the same page as far as the installation and configuration went. They were going to refit the viking and Beagle with smaller versions of the GravLoc. It was early evening by the time they were done, and Rob wanted to get back to Boston for the night. Arne and Morrie dropped him off at his 'office' in the McKesson building a quick hour later. Rob may have referred to his 'financial and legal team' in Boston, all hired by the McKesson people who had set up his corporate and financial 'identities'. That phrase makes it sound like more than it is, as the staff consists of an office manager, Sheila Marler, an accountant, George Lewis and a Lawyer, DeShawn McGuire. Rob had a lawyer! Of his very own!
Deshawn actually was on staff at McKesson. Rob was 'hiring' her from them for now. Mostly she was in charge of filing his legal documents and supervising the legal aspects of whatever financial documents came through that needed it. She was very much the corporate-type lawyer rather than the trial-type lawyer. He personally hoped to never need the trial-type lawyer.
He made sure to let Sheila know he would be back in to get a few things done in the morning and asked her to pass along and invitation for them all to meet for breakfast in the Oak Room at the Fairmont Copley. It was just up the street from the office. Rob had been offered one of the guest suites in the McKesson building for the night, but wanted to take advantage of Andy and Cor's offer to use their place in Somerville anytime he was in the area. He also had standing permission to use Andy's StarLight and who in their right mind would say no to that?
It was almost nine in the evening by the time Arne dropped him off. He tapped a local pizza place and ordered a late dinner and hopped in the shower. Andy and Cor must have a service, because the fridge was well stocked and everything was fresh. Rob found some Guinness and Bass in there, remembering Andy's fondness for Black and Tans, it was no surprise. He just wanted something to wash the pizza down so grabbed a Bass.
Rob turned on the TV and surfed all the news channels until the pizza arrived. He had paid for the pizza via the tap when he'd ordered it, but realized that he had nothing to tip the delivery guy with.
"That's okay Mr. Young. I'd love an autograph though, if you don't mind." Was the response. That was startling, but Rob grabbed one of his new business cards from the desk in the office and signed it for him.
He polished off his beer while surfing the news, so grabbed another one and attacked the pizza. Pepperoni and peppers, his favorite! He cleaned up what little mess he'd made then hit the sack. The guest room he was using had a tap-able alarm so he tied into it and set a six am get up time. With the time difference between coasts he realized it was probably still early enough and tapped Wendy on the Q.
"Hi Princess!" Rob said as soon as we were linked.
"Rob! Where are you?"
"I'm in Somerville. Got the alarm set and my head ready to hit the pillow and decided I'd better give you a call before I went to sleep."
"Ooh! Nice! Did you get to take a look at the new ship?"
"Yeah, its looking good. We've got three weeks before we'll need to take her up for space trials. What do you want to do until then?"
"It sounds like you have something in mind already."
"Well, I was thinking we could invite your folks and mine to spend a few weeks somewhere tropical. Jamaica or Hawaii or someplace like that."
"Mmm, White sand beaches and drinks with umbrellas in them? I'm game, but I'll have to go bikini shopping." Wendy said, her voice dropping into a velvety whisper that sent shivers down Rob's spine and up other places. And damned if that comment didn't make it difficult to drop right off to sleep! Especially after a few minutes of smooching goodbyes.
Freshly shaved and showered the next morning, Rob slid himself into the drivers seat of the StarLight and ran her through the startup sequence. Flying her was a trivial task, tapped into the traffic net via the Q. The StarLight's brain and the traffic net hashed out what had to happen, calculated all the whens and wheres, and he was gently but swiftly wafted to his destination. Rob even got to park in Andy's spot in the McKesson building's garage.
It was a short walk from the McKesson building up to the Fairmont Copley. On the way out of the Fairmont Rob saw a rack with brochures for other Fairmont hotels and resorts. He grabbed one for a resort on Barbados and spent a few minutes at the concierge desk getting more information. The Concierge took his name and told him he'd give the Resort in Barbados a call and let them know to expect to hear from him.
It was a sign of his growing recognizability, or the caliber of the folks at the Fairmont, perhaps both, but Rob was met by an endless series of - 'Good morning Mr. Young!' and 'Welcome to the Fairmont Mr. Young!' - type greetings. His table was ready and he only made it through a couple sips of coffee before Sheila arrived. They went through the usual coffee prep and small talk, during which Rob learned that her husband Lloyd had dropped her off on his way to work. They had been married for five months, didn't have any children, and weren't planning any for at least another few years. By that time George and DeShawn were being shown to the table. More coffee and greetings were performed, and now that they were all here, the menu perusing began.
Breakfast is one of the most consistent menus in the U.S. Fancy, plain, big city or country diner, most breakfast menus consist of eggs and omelets, bacon, sausage, pancakes, french toast, waffles and toast in various combinations. The variations and extras were many, and varied by region, but these things made up the core of almost every restaurant's breakfast menu. Fine with Rob! He ordered scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and orange juice. About as basic as you could get.
"Ladies and gentleman. Lets talk shop." He said, once the breakfast had more or less disappeared from everyone's plate.
"Its a given that at the moment there are more McKesson folks off behind the scenes somewhere, but other than that, the four of us are QuanTangle, Inc." Rob opened with. "I'm a geek, as close to the proverbial mad scientist as you're ever likely to meet, not a business man. Reassure me."
"The unseen McKesson folks are really the businessman side of things. We are mostly just the 'face' of QuanTangle." George offered.
"So you're job is to just arrange the piles of QuanTangle lucre, and
DeShawn's job is to make sure those piles are arranged in a way that keeps the feds and anyone else who has a finger in them happy? What does Sheila do?" I asked, with a bit of mock aggression. Sheila saw the underlying lightness of my tone and responded in kind.
"My job is to keep the two of them stocked up with an endless supply of sharpened pencils and letterhead stationary and envelopes. Oh, and I talk politely to the thousand people a day who call wanting Rob young to invest in their sure-fire scheme."
"And a fine job you do of it too, I'm sure!" Rob answered over the snickering of George and DeShawn.
We sat and sipped coffee for an hour, and got a few things ironed out. For one thing, I didn't want people calling with ideas or proposals to be summarily dismissed.
"Sheila, when someone calls, and they have an idea to pitch, ask them to route all such inquiries to us via email. Set us up an address for that purpose. Go through it every day, and anything that is technical beyond your ability to understand, forward to a second address. I can get us as many MIT students as we need to screen the technical emails. Anything they approve will get passed on to me. Work up some form letters for both those we reject out of hand and those we pass on. Sound workable?"
"Sure, we'll call your students 'the review committee', or something that sounds official." Sheila said. "What about charitable requests?"
"Those you can dismiss. If they're insistent, give them our mailing address. If there are charities any of you would like to see QuanTangle donating to, we'll sit down and look at them, but I'm not much in need of outside inspiration for finding charitable causes to donate to."
"We all probably have a favorite we donate to ourselves, thanks for including us in." George said.
"You're welcome! Now, how come I'm not hearing from you guys?" Rob asked. "I was out of town for a year, and you didn't write, you didn't call. If I'd have known about you, I'd have missed you!"
They worked out a system where Sheila would send Rob a weekly 'executive summary' wherever he was, and that George or DeShawn could send anything they considered urgent directly if they felt the need. In addition, he promised to have monthly meetings, either in person or by holo-conference on the Q.
With the work stuff out of the way, it was time to reveal his true purpose.
"I need to go shopping. Who here fancies themselves as a jewelry expert? " I asked?
Sheila, by virtue of her relative newlywed status got elected. Her wedding ring, which she was still enjoying showing off when asked, was beautiful, and she and her husband Lloyd had spent months shopping around for their rings.
"I need a jewelry store where a guy for whom the phrase 'money is no object' applies, but who's not used to it and needs some TLC." Rob told her as we stood in front of the Fairmont.
"I know the perfect place, and its an easy walk from here." Sheila said.
They cut across Copley Plaza to Boylston Street and headed towards the Public Gardens and Boston Common, but stopped only a block up the street.
"Mr. Young, I present you with 'Shreve, Crump & Low'." Sheila said with glee.
We were met with prompt and kind attention by a saleslady named Estelle, who asked us what we were interested in. I turned to Sheila.
"I need secrecy. Office Manager's oath?"
"Of course!" She answered with a laugh.
"Take us to the engagement and wedding ring section." I asked Estelle.
Andy's StarLight was fun to drive, but Rob needed something he could make long hauls in and call his own, so he dropped it back off at the condo and called a cab. He wanted to buy himeself something and it was going to have to be an Obsidian, so he asked to be taken to the largest Obsidian dealer in the area. That turned out to be across the Charles River and up Commonwealth Avenue to where it ran into Brighton Avenue just past Nickerson Field.
Obsidian Motors was really finicky about selling their vehicles. They had been since they were founded, even before anti-gravity brought on the advent of the gravcar. They didn't sell dealerships, they owned and operated all their own, and their sales methods were patterned after the early days of Saturn Motors before the division got folded back into General Motors.
Obsidian may have been emulating the old days of Saturn, but a car salesman is a car salesman, and Dale Dennison was glad to meet Rob, and was all smiles and hearty handshake. Rob tried to head him off at the pass.
"Dale, I need something that will say fortune 500 when I pull up, but still give me a full spectrum solution, back roads to orbit. Got anything to fit the bill?"
They didn't have anything approaching that kind of range in their private passenger line, but had a couple of 'executive shuttles' that fit the bill in their commercial line. The only problem was they required someone with a commercial rating to pilot them off the roadway. They tapped into the Obsidian commercial showroom site on the Q-net and took a holo at the models that fit his particulars.
Rob found and quickly fell in love with an Obsidian Azimuth, a sleek, powerful surface-to-orbit executive transport with room for eight as well as 500 cubic feet of cargo space in the back. These things were designed for large corporations and the very rich, and were all around luxury, inside and out.