Geeks in Space
Chapter 6: On the Beach

Copyright© 2011 by Sea-Life

The madhouse in Fort Dodge was not repeated in Port Angeles. When Rob arrived, Wendy's parents were packed and ready to go. Rob was not willing to waste time, and neither was Wendy. As soon as he was out of the car he had an armful of voluptuous, slinky femininity, lip-locked and a-quiver. He let the kiss fade slowly, and the moment it did, he put Wendy down, an arms length away and dropped to a knee, ring box in hand and popped the lid up and held it forward.

"Wendy Fellowes, you are my strange attractor. You're the sun-hot heat at the core of my reactor. If love were an equation, it would factor out to you. I love you with everything I am and can't imagine living a single moment of the rest of my life without you. Will you marry me?"

"Abso-f$%king-lutely!" Came the first answer, less than ladylike, but still all Wendy. Followed by a "yes, yes, yes you big doofus!"

After the ring was on and another incandescent kiss exchanged, they were applauded by their parents and the pilot.

"Geeky but effective." Ted said, slapping Rob on the back.

"Congratulations Son!" I heard from two Dads.

"And what about that potty mouth young lady?" Wendy's Mom said.

"Sorry Mom. Sorry everyone, but I won a 500 dollar bet I made in seventh grade with that word." Wendy answered with a blush.

"Hang on!" Wendy said, activating her tap. "Bren? Wen!" She gushed. "Guess what? You owe me 500 dollars." After a long pause she continued. "Yes!" and span around in circles like a schoolgirl as she said it, followed by giggling and jumping up and down. It must be said. The current Wendy Fellowes is far too feminine above the waist to make jumping up and down like a schoolgirl a 'proper' activity, but Rob was not about to complain!

'Bren' turned out to be Brenda Lassiter, the grade school friend who was now a teacher that Rob had met on their first visit to Port Angeles. Brenda was at the house ten minutes after Wendy's call. The pair of them had been 'Bren and Wen' since they were little.

"Sometimes we were "Dee and Duh." Wendy said. "Wen-Dee and Bren-Duh."

When she found out they were going off to Barbados, Brenda was excited, but bummed. The school year was about to start, and there was no way she could go with them, even if they invited her.

"We'll be sure to schedule the wedding for a more auspicious time then." Rob told her.

He laid out his plans. It was Saturday, the morning of August 22nd. They were going to spend three weeks in Barbados, just the seven of them. As they were climbing into Isaac, Wendy slugged him hard on the arm.

"What was that for?" He asked.

"Isaac Azimuth, that's what!"

They lost some time heading east, and once they were checked into the hotel everyone had to decide whether they were going to wait for dinner which was a few hours away, or have something now. They decided to have a few 'bar snacks on the beach and save their appetites for a late dinner.

They lay on the beach, they swam and snorkeled. Rob and Wendy made love, though they were a little reluctant to get too carried away, with both sets of parents downstairs. The reluctance faded a bit the night Rob heard his parents getting vocal in the middle of the night. That set off a chain reaction that none of the six of them were willing to discuss over breakfast the next morning, outside of the occasional blush or giggle.

They played tourist quite a bit, going on tours and excursions. There were quite a few underwater reef tours, one was even using the new gravitic shielding to offer an underwater walking tour of one of the nearer reefs. That one was a little creepy and cool at the same time. As long as you didn't have a light source brighter than what was coming down through the sea overhead, you couldn't even tell their was a shield there. Once you turned on a light, the field flared into glistening obviousness.

"It's possible to tune the fields so that the field stays invisible, but this way seems more reassuring to our guests." Clive, our guide told me when I asked about it. "We used to get people having panic attacks when we were first trying it out."

They had small little floor lights spaced every dozen feet or so, and near them the illusion was definitely less convincing.

They para-sailed, surfed, water-biked, hiked and explored. They visited Bridgetown, the capitol, and Holetown, Speightstown, Oistins and a handful of churches, plantations, forts and lighthouses. They even took in a bit of the nightlife, doing a little dancing and drinking at some of the bigger hot spots.

It wasn't all vacation time. Rob was on the Q quite a bit to Carnegie Mellon and his former physics department head, Professor Jack Eieyery. Pronounce that name! Its actually pronounced 'yaw-ruh'. Rob made sure he got his way smoothed for coming up and getting some time in with the simulator and the modeler that he had used when he was first working on his ideas for the sensor array.

Their third day there Rob spotted some beefy, clean cut guys lounging around the Royal Pavilion that rung a bell in the back of his brain. They reminded him of the service crew people they'd had on the Pai Lung, and to a lesser degree on the Hawking. Security types, trying to look like something else. Rob tapped Sheila and asked her to check into it.

Dave McKesson himself called him back! Yes, the McKesson Group was concerned about his safety, and a McKesson security team had been assigned to provide security, with discretion, but there nonetheless.

"Rob, the Earth is a better place in general than it was a generation ago, but you still have to watch your back. There are evil people out there who see the rich and successful as targets."

"I can appreciate the truth of that, it just seems like someone could have been more up front with me about it is all." Rob answered, trying not to sound too much like he was whining.

"Its been an ongoing problem for the McKesson's since my great-grandfather's time, and we've gotten pretty good at it." Dave said. "We train our own security, and have for many, many years. We forget sometimes that everyone else we associate with isn't necessarily aware of these realities. My apologies for that."

"I understand really, and I'm not completely surprised. That's what I figured all those beefy, iron-postured cooks and laundry people were doing on the Pai Lung, and I had no problem with it." He answered.

"You'd better let your pilot know too. Our team believes he has already noticed them, and our background check on him suggests he has had the kind of training that means he should be aware of them. We'd rather not have to see who has received the better training, our security team or Ted Henley."

Rob asked for a copy of the background report on Ted, and read it with interest. The drill instructor attitude he wore so naturally was pretty close to the truth. He had been involved in some seriously heavy military stuff, and had spent a dozen years training people to do nasty things to bad guys with extreme efficiency.

While he wondered at the kind of connections that McKesson must have to get some of the military background information, which had to be classified, Rob wasn't adverse to using it to his advantage.

He contrived to find himself alone with Ted on the beach the next day and sat down in the beach chair beside him.

"So Ted, what do you think of the security detail McKesson has had watching over us?" He offered as an opening.

"They're good. I trust them to keep us as safe as possible." He said. After a sip of his rum barrel punch, he asked.

"So they spotted me spotting them then?"

"Nope, they just assumed you had based on what they knew of you." Rob took a long sip of his own drink.

"So they show you their background check?"

"Yup. Some interesting stuff in there. Some I was surprised that McKesson had access to. Nothing operation specific, but a lot of detail on the type of work you did in the military."

"Lots of that is supposed to be secret. You still okay with me working for you after seeing that?"

"Yeah, but I think you should give up this rent-a-pilot gig."

"I don't think so. Its the cleanest work I can get with the skill set I've got."

"No its not. You'll become my personal pilot, bodyguard and maybe even teacher. No renting yourself out, you'd be a full-time employee, retirement, health plan, the works."

"Teacher?" Ted asked.

"Well, Wendy and I were learning Tae kwan do from one of the cooks on board the Hawking. He reminds me very much of the guys we were just discussing, and I assume he was filling the same position there as these guys are here."

"Does it mean I have to strap myself into the rocket when its time for you to go heading off into the great wide empty?"

"Well other than that we don't use rockets anymore, which you knew, yes, I'd hope you'd really take it as that kind of full time commitment."

"Deal." Ted held out his hand and they shook. Rob tapped Sheila back in Boston immediately.

"Sheila, I need you to get some paperwork started for me. Ted Henley, rent-a-pilot, is now a full time QuanTangle employee. Get him signed up for the benefits package. Most of the information you need should be in the bonding information we got, but I'll throw this link over to Ted's tap and let the two of you get things squared away."

Rob got the two of them together and then headed off down the beach to find Wendy. The parents were off to Bridgetown to do a little shopping. He was hoping for a little mid-morning delight.

The space trials were brief, and pretty uneventful. The lessons learned on Nauru meant that most of the problems they had experienced in the past didn't happen. There are always small items to correct or adjust though, its a given with this level of complexity. Complexity was considerably less than it had been in the old NASA Space Shuttle days though. Their systems were much more robust.

Rob told Arne and Morrie to run the follow-ups without him, but to keep him posted. Once the space-worthiness was certified, he would have to do his own testing of the sensor and diagnostic systems. That was a one man show though.

Rob met Professor Eierey at Wean Hall the next day. He was a thin, bearded man in his forties, and he had a tendency to seem slightly nervous, almost twitchy, but that was just a physical trait. He was really one of those calm, focused types who never seemed to get excited. He was also a bit of an elitist, and he had rubbed Rob the wrong way several times with his attitude, but his labs and research staff were operated as a strict meritocracy, so he had prospered under him.

"Well Mr. Young. Welcome back. You seem to have done rather well for yourself since leaving."

"Thank you. In some ways I credit you professor." He said, meaning every word. "Our personalities may have clashed frequently, but I certainly thrived under your system, and most of what I've done was possible only because you were never one to place yourself between a student and recognition."

"You deserve the recognition you're getting, and you're right, I've never been one to get all bollixed up over someone else's recognition. And call me Jack, please?."

Rob held out his hand and they shook, and at that point Jack Eierey stopped seeing Rob as a student and began seeing him as an equal. They certainly never again had the kind of clashes they had during Rob's years as a student.

"You seem to be happy with my work, but are you guys using it here?" I asked.

"Not much call for sensor arrays around here, but the quantum tunneling work is still getting a lot of follow through from most of the people in the field here." Jack answered.

"I assumed that, but what about the Q-net and the Q-tap? Do you know if the computer department has begun picking up on the differences in computing power available with this new system?"

Of course he didn't know, so he was going to have to ask outside of the department. Fortunately, the current situation made that relatively easy.

The modelers and simulators were really the province of the computer science department, and they were housed in the basement in an area shared jointly by physics and computer science. They took the elevator down to the 'dead zone', as it was called, The small network of rooms where all the hardware lived, and took a look around.

It had only been a couple of years, but Rob didn't recognize anyone at all.

"Lets check with Aaron." Jack said, waving at a short, bearded student with a stack of old fashioned greenbar printouts. "Aaron Shelldrake is one of the grad students whose been working on the remodel going on down here in the last six months. They've only had to take us offline once in all that time, so I can offer a small measure of presumption of competence on their part."

Just then the sound of concrete drills fill the air, and a spoken conversation was no longer possible. Aaron pulled a set of ear muffs up off his neck, but Jack and Rob were not so fortunate. Between the two of them they managed to communicate via hand gesture their need to talk, and signaled a desire to head upstairs. He nodded and followed us to the elevator.

"Aaron, if you're going to be doing that kind of thing down there you need to restrict access or put up a sign of some kind. That was dangerously loud." Jack said, wasting no time in dressing the younger man down.

"I agree! I wondered why the construction supervisor handed me a pair of earmuffs when I got down there. I don't think they realized we hadn't closed off the level. Someone obviously missed an item on a checklist somewhere." He said, shrugging his shoulders.

"Aaron, this is Rob Young. He's going to be using the modeler and simulator gear for a couple of days and has a few questions. Can we invite you up for a cup of coffee?"

Being a department head at Carnegie Mellon had its advantages, and an office assistant who brews wickedly good coffee from freshly ground beans on a moments notice has to be considered near the top of the list as far as advantages go.

Candice, the office assistant was a cute, bubbly blond who wore jeans and a t-shirt in a way that made Rob ask the question.

"Jack, I know you operate the labs and the grad students as a meritocracy. Do you do the same for your office assistants?"

"Rob, I'm offended. After tasting that woman's coffee, you still feel the need to ask that question?"

That got Aaron and him laughing, and Jack joined in. Rob had never seen him acting so pleasant and personable.

"Rob, as much as I'd like to drag this out, due to the coffee and the scenery, what can I help you with?" Aaron asked.

"I was wondering if the computer science department was beginning to take advantage of the new amorphous nano-substrate computers, the ones that we developed for use aboard the Pai Lung and the Hawking?"

"Ah! I wondered why you seemed familiar. It makes sense now. Yes, we are beginning to. In fact the remodeling thats going on downstairs is so we can add an entire ANS computer system in alongside the existing stuff. We hope to slowly switch over to that system once we're sure of our programing. This new stuff is pretty different, and our guys are still getting used to coding in it."

"I know just the guy you need. I can't say how busy he is though. Let me find out." Rob offered.

Rob tapped a link to Howard Dexter. He had been one of the systems guys aboard the Pai Lung, and had been one of the leads on adapting code from their old systems to Ike's new one. Rob had no clue if he had become engaged in this process, but he was one of the few existing experts in it.

"Rob! What's up man?" Howard said as soon as we connected.

"Howard, how hard at work are you?"

"I'm living off the fat of my back pay at the moment. Why? What's up?"

"Have you ever considered the fact that you are one of the world's foremost experts on programming and program conversion for the new ANS computers?"

"I hadn't thought about that. I guess its true, huh? Tony and I did a lot of the groundwork for that new system."

"You guys should get your heads together. You could probably get rich contracting out to various organizations that are wanting to switch to the new system. I've got a potential first client for you too, if you decide to do it. Carnegie Mellon is implementing some of the new systems now, and could probably afford to hire someone to help with all the conversion."

"Rob, are you a Tartan?" Howard asked. That was the CMU team nickname.

"Yeah." Rob answered.

"University of Chicago here, man. I'm a Maroon!" Ahh! Conference rivals!

Rob let Aaron and Howard talk. Aaron wasn't high enough up the food chain at CMU to get this done on his own, but with a little support from Jack, it should get pushed through pretty quickly. In the meantime, getting the many months of collected data out of his Q-tap and into the instrument's data storage was easier than he thought it would be. They may still be in the middle of moving over to the new Amorphous Nano Substrate computing platform, but they had immediately installed interfaces capable of handling the FHS data stream that the Q-tap used.

Rob spend three nights sequestered in the dead zone with the modeler and simulator. He let the construction crews do their thing during the day and had the place to himself at night. Aaron Hayes dropped by the first night to see how he was doing, but took one look at his outputs, smiled, and wished him luck.

He called Wendy every night on his way in, and she called him to give him a wake up call every afternoon. He spent his afternoons showing Ted around Pittsburgh and visiting with some of his former professor's and classmates. Jack got him together with his entire crew of graduate assistants on the second afternoon and they just brainstormed what they knew and what they thought, and Rob described for them the kinds of data he was getting from isolating the sensor array inputs and tuning for the various energetic outputs and 'transparent bands' from the reactor and gravity engines. They couldn't even all agree about what it was he was detecting. But it was a big struggle in their area of research to even explain some of the underlying principles. Jack summed it up for us, echoing something I think all of us remember hearing him tell us as undergraduate students.

"There's an old story of a committee of blind men asked to study and describe an elephant. Each man was lead to the elephant, one man felt the trunk, another the leg and a third an ear. When they were asked to explain the true nature of an elephant, one said, 'it is like a snake, round and long, coiling and writhing'. The second man said 'it is like the trunk of a great tree, solid and unmovable.' the third man said 'it is like a leather coat, thin, wide and flexible'." Jack smiled at the recognition of his story in our eyes. "As all of you can attest, students of Quantum physics are like that committee. Each of us sees the nature of the piece we study and we examine that part at length and in detail, but we cannot give in to the temptation that what we describe is the whole of it, or that in describing what we observe we are gaining understanding about the true nature of the beast."

That lesson was always worth repeating, and along with a suggestion here and a comment there that Rob picked up on during the session, he felt there were some avenues to explore that he'd been ignoring. In fact that night's session in the modeler gave him the first utter failure that pointed him in the right direction.

They did the equipment install and preliminary software install and testing on the ground in Conneaut. The modeler and simulator gear were current versions of what Rob had been using at CMU, and other than having ANS Computer systems at their core instead of the older stuff, they were running exactly identical versions of the software that came with them. The first thing he did was dump those versions into backups and install the tweaked versions that reflected the current versions at CMU. There had been a lot of code tweaking in the years that he had been there, and probably more since.

Ted was getting a complete workup on piloting and control functions while he was working on the lab gear. A day later Rob had the equipment ready for some preliminary calibration runs, and an hour into them, Wendy arrived. They let the calibration runs proceed unattended while Wendy and Rob slipped off to the hotel for a little calibration session of their own.

"You've been skipping your workouts, haven't you?" Wendy said, draped across him, sweaty and out of breath.

"Yeah." He said, "guilty as charged, and it wasn't even intentional. Just once again too busy being the boy genius."

"Its a good thing I'm back, but from now on Ted's getting standing orders from me. No more neglecting the boy side of the boy genius in favor of the genius side."

Rob reapplied himself to the current activities with renewed vigor, hoping to achieve an apology of an orgasmic nature.

Back at Erie Precision in time to rescue Ted from his lessons, they whisked him off to lunch. Before they did, Rob checked the calibration runs and reset two of them with the outside set of parameters and let them run again.

Lunch was across the lake in Port Stanley, Ontario. Ted had been here before, and insisted they stop into The Captain Cook's Good Times. It was a friendly bar/restaurant, with the emphasis on bar.

"Its known locally as 'Jimmy C's', after the previous owner, who was well liked here for many years." Ted told us. "But he passed away a few years back. Died in bed of old age, as I understand it, and it took two days to dry the townsfolk out after the wake. I had a client up in Toronto who I flew through a regular Toronto-London-Toledo route who made me stop at the place at least twice a week, and I fell in love with the friendly atmosphere."

The middle leg of that route had Wendy and Rob confused for a moment until Ted explained it was London, Ontario, not London, England.

Local and friendly were the words all right, and the food was good, though Rob settle for a burger and fries rather than the locally caught Lake Erie perch.

"Lets take a cab across tonight and come back for a few beers!" Wendy suggested.

"Outstanding!" Came Ted's reply. That settled it for Rob!

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