Geeks in Space
Chapter 11: The Need for Separation
Copyright© 2011 by Sea-Life
The next trip to Alpha Centauri took place without Rob or Wendy Young. It took place with a bevy of doctors and scientists whose job it was to decide if Islandia was going to be safe for people. In the end, it was announced that as places go, Islandia was pretty innocuous. Other than some pollens causing mild reactions, mostly just due to 'gumming up the pipes', the microbial and bacteriological studies suggested that the Islandian analogs were not easily able to latch onto anything in the human cellular structure. The few that could find something to work on, were not effective agents. These same basic differences in cellular chemistry and biology also meant that the plants and animals might not be able to provide a lot of nutritional value to Humans.
While Rob recuperated on Sandy Isle, he continued to work on his latest idea, finally calling on Wendy to help machine some parts for him. Wendy was the one who got the fuel cell to work with the Jump field generator, designing a special power coupler that could take large loads from the cell, in very brief, discrete bursts.
Three weeks later the day finally came when they needed something live to test it on, and another rack of cages with a dozen lab rats arrived. Ted brought them in on Isaac, and brought Victor and Alexandra with him.
"We know you aren't ready to unveil anything yet, so if you'd rather we weren't here for this phase of the testing, we'll head back off to Infinity Station."
"No, its fine. We're fairly confident its going to work, it just may be very undramatic at this point."
Rob and Wendy led them to a large work shed behind the house. Inside the shed a pit had been dug out, and some sort of plastic lining placed inside.
"This is going to be a bit odd looking, because I don't want to shoot through a cage, but I didn't want to give the rat a chance to escape either, so short of super-gluing their little feet to the floor, all I came up with was this." Rob said, as they stood on the walkway that had been built around the smooth plastic lined pit.
"Sort of like shooting fish in a barrel then?" Ted asked.
"Pretty much." Rob replied.
They put all but one of the cages away in a corner, spending a little time getting one of the rats out of its cage and into the pit.
"We've got a working prototype breadboarded into that unit you see overhead, and that's what we'll be using for testing. We get very accurate readings on power levels, field strength and duration, so we'll be able to correlate those readings with the effects." Rob explained.
Rob was still limping a little bit, but not too bad, and his mobility was close to normal, but it was Wendy who climbed into the jury rigged mass to power up the overhead unit and check the settings. With the flick of a switch, the rat in the center of the tub was bathed in a blue light.
"That's a very gross targeting indicator. Right now we're firing a pretty wide beam. We'd narrow that down for any kind of finished weapon of course."
With the flick of another switch, the rat seemed to glow red for a brief second, and then was squealing and running in ragged circles, trying to climb the smooth walls of the enclosure.
"I think we managed to scare it anyway." Rob said. "Lets up the power."
Wendy manually shifted the beam and again Rob flicked a switch, just as the rat was crossing through the blue light in its frantic scramble.
This time the rat froze in mid-stride, seeming to hang suspended in the red outline before collapsing back to the floor, unmoving. They had their first live success!
A month later, Ted, Victor and Alexandra were back. This time they brought Constantine Fylakas, Formerio Sabarte and Dave McKesson with them. They marched out to the same work shed they had gone to the first time.
"We got smart and erected some gravitic field generators to keep the rats trapped and threw away the big plastic pit. We've added guinea pigs and rhesus monkeys to our zoo, and I'll let you decide which gets the honors." Rob said. The cement and sand floor was marked by a line of black and yellow emergency tape to indicate the edges of the field.
Doctor Fylakas picked one of the larger monkeys and Rob moved around to release one from its cage into the enclosure.
Wendy brought out the case they had their prototype stored in. It had formerly been used to store a home telescope kit, and was one of those ubiquitous aluminum travel cases with the foam padded interiors.
"We've been calling this the 'Mark I Stunner'. We want to avoid the connotations of a taser that might come with using the phrase 'stun gun'. Rob said. He lifted the rifle-like object out of the case.
Without preamble Rob turned and pointed the stunner at the rat. The blue beam of a targeting laser sprang up, and with its light bathing the rat, he pulled the trigger. For a brief second the little rat seemed to be outlined in a flicker of fiery red that winked out again a long second later.
"Someone can walk in there and check on it if they want, but based on our work so far, we can tell you that the animal is stunned and unconscious, and will remain so for a minimum of an hour." Wendy told them.
"Well it looks effective. What about aftereffects?"
"None noticeable." Rob answered. "When they come to, there's no disorientation or nausea apparent. We've done some minimal follow-up work and found no changes in heart rate, respiration rate or temperature. No obvious changes in blood chemistry or electrolyte balance. We're not equipped to test more than those here."
"No change in eating habits, appetite, sexual display or performance." Wendy added. "Even their mood seems to remains unchanged."
"Can you explain to those of us not familiar with your work, what is causing this effect?"
"How much of the Q-Space Engine have you seen?"
"Very little. None, really. We've heard some discussions, seen some reports on what you've been able to do, including seeing some truly stunning pictures from Islandia and Dinotopia, but the workings of the drive itself are still a mystery." Dave McKesson answered.
Rob began to step them through the ideas, inspirations and work which resulted in the Q-Space Engine. While he did, he and Wendy quietly shut everything down, got the monkey back in its cage, and put the Stunner back in its case.
"I call it an Engine, because it is not really a drive. It taps into Quantum space, the same place where our previously exploited quantum tunneling effect takes place. The Jump Field, as I call it, needs two points in our space as anchors. The blips I kept seeing in my sensor data when we were doing sensor array scans were the loose quantum signatures of stellar masses, which produce large 'beacons' that I could lock onto and use as the second endpoint for the Jump Field."
"Lets get back in the house and get something cool to drink before Rob gets completely wound up." Wendy suggested.
There was a big pitcher of 'Caribbean punch' in the fridge, something Rob, Wendy and their guests seemed to live on, a mix of honey, lime juice, lemon, orange and pineapple juice with some pineapple chunks and watermelon balls thrown in. A little later in the day and they might have been asking if they should add a little rum to the mix, but it was still barely past breakfast, so they poured everyone a tall glass over crushed ice and sat together in the living room.
"You were telling us about Jump Fields?" Doctor Fylakas offered, once they were settled in.
"The jump field is really a bubble of what I call 'quantum probable uncertainty'." The phrase drew a few snorts of laughter from several of the men, though Doctor Fylakas only smiled. "This isn't some sort of Heisenbergian mummery. Each endpoint of the field marks our reality, and within the field, the probability that our reality exists reaches almost zero the closer you get to the center of the field. This is a highly unstable state for anything to be in, so the only thing that allows it to exist is the cascade of energy across both real-world end points. In the Q-Space Engine those end points are the Engine's location and the locked Quantum beacon of another star system. With me so far?"
Everyone nodded, some more vacantly than others.
"We came to hear about this new stunner, but we're getting lectured on the Q-Space engine." Dave McKesson said. "I assume there's a reason?"
"Yes. Well, we noticed some small oddities during the first few jumps with the new engine. Every jump was taking pi seconds. How's that for an oddity? At the same time, we immediately noticed that those people making the jump did not notice those 3.14159 seconds at all. I began poking around, examining some of my underlying work. The stunner is a result of that. It simply employs some of the originally ignored or unknown properties of the jump field."
"You are saying that the same jump field you use to move a ship full of people from here to Alpha Centauri is what makes this stunner work?" Formerio Sabarte asked.
"Yes, the field is tuned differently, and altered slightly, but yes, the stunner is really just a hand held jump field projector."
Rob stepped his now captive audience through the development of their current stunner. They discussed the targeting system and the fuel cell requirements.
"The fuel cell in this current model is good for about twenty shots if there is no appreciable time between shots. Even allowing maximum cycling time, you'll only get thirty before you've depleted the cell completely. Wendy has developed a deep discharge variant of her power coupler that can pull energy from the cell at the levels the jump field generator needs."
"Considering the power needed for the Q-Space engine, I'm amazed that this jump field generator can get by with a fuel cell for power." Dave said.
"The trick is that generating the jump field doesn't actually require that much power. The massive amounts of power the Q-Space engine needs are not for creating the field, but for moving mass through the Q-space from one endpoint to another. The stunner does no moving, and in fact, it would use far less power than it does if we weren't tweaking the field in a different way. By itself, the jump field doesn't cause the 'stun' effect. That is caused by forcing the field to spend less than those 3.14159 seconds, which isn't really a time, so much as it is an inherent 'dwell point'. Other intelligences might perceive the amount of time it takes differently, but the energy needed to change the field effect from that 'dwell point' to something else would be the same, and so would the duration of the effect."
"Is the effect then some sort of synaptic disruption?" Doctor Fylakas asked.
"I'm still investigating that, but no, it is more of a molecular stasis. For a single instant, every single molecule of the object in the field stops 'relating' to the molecules around it. This is not an electromagnetic phenomenon like a synaptic disruption would be, its again like the Q-space engine, more of a quantum level phenomenon than a real-world level phenomenon."
"Can the field be made to work more like a shotgun than a rifle?" Ted asked. "Can you spray a large number of targets in front of you?"
"Short answer? Yes. Long answer? I'll get back to you. Possible doesn't mean practical, so we'll have to see."
"Now that the gun demonstration is over," Wendy said. "Its our turn to ask questions."
"Specifically, what brought you three McKesson heavyweights out here for a prototype demonstration? It can't be just an interest in non-lethal weaponry." Rob added.
Dave and Formerio Sabarte gave each other a quick glance.
"Rob, what do you see happening down the road with Alpha Centauri?" Formerio asked.
Islandia was something of a paradise, but perhaps any unspoiled planet on which a man could walk in his shirt sleeves might seem so.
The shores of Lake Andrew, named for the famous grandfather of the McKesson family, were proving to be popular, and most of the living and recreational habitats had been built around it. The forest that surrounded all but the southernmost edges of it was mostly a single species of local tree, what the experts were classifying as a hardwood, and which we were provisionally calling 'Islandia Maple'. They weren't much like maples on the outside, but the lumber that came from the small number that had been cleared during construction around the lake had a definite maple appearance. There were a few other hardwood species sprinkled in with the Islandia Maples, predominantly something we were calling Lake Ash. The forest itself varied beautifully between dense heavy woods and lightly wooded glades.
The ability to travel to the stars had been kept a closely held secret while Islandia's current occupants, an army of scientists, engineers, technicians and medical researchers from the various McKesson companies poked and prodded the fields and forests, lakes and seas of Islandia. Groups like the ones around Lake Andrew were busy exploring, studying and cataloging locations on the other two continents as well, and slowly but surely some sense of what living on Islandia was going to be like was growing.
The medical researchers and biologists, after six months of study had some promising leads on making the local plant and animal life digestible, if not actually nutritious. The possibility of microbial assaults from the local ecosystem had been all but eliminated, barring a discovery of something inimical tucked away in some isolated spot. The average visitors biggest worry were the local predators, who had no clue what a human being was and thus no fear. The Bumble Tigers of the equatorial continents great jungle, and the Lion Bears of the southern savannas were the worst, but not the only ones, and they were matched by the Badger Wolves of the northern forest, for one. The Badger Wolves, like the Lion Bears of the south, were reminiscent of more than one Earth mammal at the same time.
'There's probably going to be a lot of names like that.' The new administrator for the Islandian Immigration and Conservation Service thought to himself as he watched the end of the presentation the group in front of him had been watching. He had been standing in the open doorway to the conference room for several minutes now, waiting for the presentation to end. When the display finally went black and the lights began to brighten, he walked to the front of the room, nodding at the technician who had just been running the presentation so far.
"Good morning ladies and gentlemen. My name is Gianni Sabarte, and I am the director of security for this installation. I'm sure your day has been quite eye-opening so far, but I have to warn you there is a little further to go before you are free to wander off on your own. You may feel you are invincible in your Caldwell suit, carrying a stunner strapped to your thigh and with an emergency rescue vehicle only moments away. But you must remember above everything, this is a wilderness planet."
With a signal to his Q-tap, Gianni sent a command to the conference rooms holo display. The lights dimmed and aerial footage of a large pack of badger wolves chasing a large, shaggy creature at least twice the size of even the largest of them began to play.
"Every animal with teeth and claws that you see here will have no fear of you beyond the caution they would feel over any animal your size, and as you see, sometimes size doesn't matter." Finally the pack overwhelmed the creature, dragging it to the ground, and a snarling roiling feeding frenzy began. "A full family group of Badger Wolves can number up to fifty adults, and your stunner will stop twenty of them if they are attacking in their usual fashion, maybe thirty if you're lucky. After that, you had better hope your Caldwell suit will hold until help comes."
"But the Caldwell suit will hold, and we ultimately will be safe." Someone said from the middle of the darkened room.
"Yes, you will, barring accidents." Gianni answered, killing the display and bringing the lights back up. "But you will be altering the behavior of the animals you encounter and altering their environment, and your jobs here are to protect the people who come to Islandia from the wildlife, and at the same time protect the native flora and fauna from them and you."
"We are to be glorified park rangers then. I thought it sounded too good to be true." a Woman near him said.
"You are going to be going by the title of Ranger, but you will most definitely not be park rangers! This world is definitely not a park and living on it will very, very far from a walk in the park. What you have seen so far this morning should have already convinced you of that." Gianni said. "Your job is to become completely familiar and at home in the environments of Islandia. Two years from now we hope to begin receiving our first settlement ships. Each ship will have five hundred people and everything they need to establish a settlement on Islandia. Each group of five hundred will have two trained specialists who will know the equipment and procedures developed for establishing a settlement. Each group will also have a Doctor and a trained Physician's Assistant. Everyone in the group will have received months of training before they ever set foot on the ship. Every one of them will have seen the video you watched this morning, or its replacement, but they will not be the experts on Islandia, You will. When a settlement or farm has a problem they cannot solve on their own, they will be calling on you."
Tom Donovan led his group of eight would-be-rangers along the stream. The trainees had identified and provisionally classified thirteen insect, four mammal, two fish and nine bird species so far. They would compare their notes against the catalog of existing identifications that evening when they were back at the Ranger compound, but the identification was less important than their observations of feeding patterns, use of habitat, territoriality, and other behaviors. They had already had a discussion about a bird called the Pennywhistle, that could almost always be found in the grassy reeds that grew alongside the river, but which they had not seen in the similar reeds in the low marsh they had passed through after their stop for breakfast.
Tom was this training group's 'expert', because he had been here for three months already, and what he already knew about Islandia was important for these people to learn. Just as important was a knowledge of the land they were traveling over. This was the Maple Lake Region, and it was going to be one of the prime settlement areas when the colonists started arriving. The lake was a prime water source, and the six valleys that spread down from the hills surrounding the lake were prime farming areas. The heavy forests that grew around the lake and on the hills would have been perfect building material, if the settlers had to depend on them, but the plans were to have the Islandia Colonial Authority harvesting and producing lumber centrally and providing it as needed. What the heavy forest was, on an immediate level, was prime habitat for Badger Wolves, and despite several warnings given earlier in the day, his group had once again forgotten to keep an eye trained towards the forest edge to the east of them.
A dozen Badger Wolves had broken from that forest edge several seconds ago, and were making for the group at full speed. They would get within a hundred yards or so and then there would be the 'BuHooo!!' howl from others back in the treeline, intended to momentarily freeze their prey just before the strike.
Colleen Grimes, from Scottsdale, Arizona, USA, spotted movement out of the corner of her eye and turned instinctively towards it.
"Oh Shit! Badger Wolves! Watch out!"
Her cry was too late, and the eight students were collectively on their asses, being attacked by the creatures. Tom sent a command, fully activating all their Caldwell suits and then began firing. The Caldwell suits couldn't block the stunner field, so four of the students got stunned at the same time as the wolves. The student who had seen the wolves and cried out had managed to get her stunner up and was firing as well, though her first shot had been straight up as she lay on her back. Three others were standing with her at the end, watching the forest, looking for another wave.
"Keep your eyes open. I'm calling for a transport." Tom said.
The group received their debriefing three hours later, when the four stunned students were revived and had passed their medical follow up.
"Congratulations." Tom started off. If you had been a party of settlers, most of you would probably be dead now."
"You saw them coming, didn't you? Why didn't you give a warning?" Keith Lewis, from Eastleigh, England asked.
"I am your teacher, not your bodyguard. Having been warned to watch for Badger Wolves, you should have set up a system of lookouts and kept an eye out yourselves. Miss Grimes here did the best of all of you today and even that was sheer luck. Does anyone care to disagree with that assessment?"
The eight students were mute, and most had the good sense to appear embarrassed.
"You all were accepted into this program because you had demonstrated wilderness and survival skills, but you are facing an environment that is different than any you've experienced. You have to be thinking in survival mode first and learning mode second. You cannot blunder around Islandia wrapped in a Caldwell suit every second, and your stunner will not save you in every situation. Understood?"
"Yes Sir!" They answered collectively.
"What goes for you will be even more true for the settlers you will be supporting. They will not be wearing Caldwell suits and they will have little in the way of previous wilderness or survival training."
"Yes Sir!" they repeated.