Voices/Future Tense

An Orions’ Arm E-zine

The Inspection

Linus Cohen

The planet-hopping TRHN vessel Star Nine cruised through space at point zero four lightspeed. Monopole-catalysed fusion thrusters rapidly decelerated the ship towards the gas giant Thebes, a superjovian-class world with twenty times the mass of Old Jupiter in SolSys. The slim diamondoid spire of the Star Nine had, at one end, a vaguely spherical cockpit. The other end played host to a cylindrical structure about the same size, which was its main conversion drive. Between these objects were the long cylindrical fuel tanks that currently held several hundred metric tonnes of Lithium-Hydrogen mix. Thebes filled the viewscreen in the habitation module of the Nine as Ship AI Aleyshon sent telemetry to Rameses Orbital over wideband datastreams.

Aleyshon, having recently transcended to Second Toposophic, found this a rather menial task, even while managing ship’s deceleration and controlling the engine. Once permission was secured from Rameses, the team could go up to their final destination, the gravitational wave energy plant Einstein. At that point the team would disembark and perform their task; an inspection of the facility to see how research was progressing. The AI contemplated the team of four liquiforms, a shape-shifting clade adapted to high-gravity conditions. They seemed interested in a hologram showing the relative positions of Thebes, Star Nine, and Rameses orbital. At that moment, a datastream started up. Aleyshon took note, and contacted one of the team members, Een.

-Hello, Aleyshon. Are we still on course?-

-That’s excellent. We should dock on time and according to plan. Goodbye.-

Een closed the datastream and flowed off to watch another viewscreen. Literally, flowed: liquiforms are basically a First Toposophic brain running on a nanofluid processor. If they wish, they can take on solid forms, but their usual form is a translucent blue liquid mass, flowing over barriers with the appearance of artificial superfluidity produced by motive devices embedded in their nanofluids. Een then remanifested — again, no Anglic term for how liquiforms can give themselves the appearance of solidity — in the hold next to e’s three co-inspectors: Takete, Maluma and Oneno. Een had taken the form of a male feline provolve, which e rather liked and was thinking of trying more often. Of course, Een mused, once they got into the high-G conditions of the gravity wave energy station, they would have to stay liquefied to survive the g-forces. That was not the reason they had been retained to do this inspection, though. The system’s local AI wanted the liquiforms’ assistance because of the clade’s reputation as highly perceptive sophonts. The ability to see things from many directions at once, simultaneously, gave liquiforms exceptional insights into physical processes and structures.

Maluma and Oneno took great interest in their viewscreens, now showing a hologram of Thebes. Takete, on the other hand was busy working on an obscure problem in interferometry. Before em, Een could see a viewscreen full of equations. Moving across the face of Thebes was the populous, paraterraformed moon, Luxor, the distant sun gleaming off its worldhouse roof. On the night side of Thebes, huge lightning bolts crackled through the cloud layers while myriad Deep Well Industrial Zones sucked up hydrogen and converted it with their multi-trillion-tonne black holes. Maluma took more interest in yet another viewscreen showing station Einstein. On the screen it looked like a tiny silver ball surrounded by the near-invisible spiderweb of monopolium lumps at strategic locations to lessen the tidal forces. It was at that point that Aleyshon’s voice came over their uplinks.

have the necessary permission to proceed to Einstein station.>

Een spoke. -Thank you, Aleyshon.-

Een observed e’s co-inspectors. Coming from many different backgrounds, they had, for some reason, been selected to inspect this station. It had seemed a monumentally strange idea at the time — after all, why not just send an S2, or get results from the stations’ AI itself — but it turned out that this was due to the intervention of the System AI Keiymoshaon, who was probably the most paranoid being within a few parsecs. It was well known that E neither liked nor trusted any entity above second toposophic (not including erself, for e was an S4). E had protested to an amazing extent against an S2 running Einstein Station, but was forced to concede defeat after every analysis proved that an S1 would simply not be capable of running the station. And the choice of liquiforms had a certain logic to it. The clade enjoyed a reputation as highly perceptive sophonts. The ability to see things from many directions at once, simultaneously, gave liquiforms exceptional insights into physical processes and structures.

On the viewscreen, Een and Takete watched as the silver dot of Einstein station grew in apparent size. After a few minutes, they heard the all-too familiar ‘clunk’ that mean your ship had docked. The four liquiforms liquefied and flowed to the airlock. As they passed through the open doorway, they heard Aleyshon.

Maluma answered. –Thank you. Goodbye, Aleyshon.-

It was not widely known that Omegarapture emself had started the entire research project. E had recognized the potential. If the technology were perfected, gravity wave energy would be an extremely reliable power source, standing alongside conversion reactors and GUT reactors. Gravitational waves carried huge quantities of energy. However, the hard part was figuring out how to extract the energy. Eventually, an answer was revealed, as answers generally do when sought by higher toposophic intellects. Artificial cosmic strings, forged by accelerating the polar jets of black holes to a miniscule fraction under the speed of light, and then being smacked together at huge energies, even above the Planck energy itself. These one-dimensional defects in spacetime could harvest the energy of gravity waves with an efficiency of very near one hundred percent. And so a prototype had been constructed. If the prototype performed as predicted, this process would provide huge amounts of revenue for systems capable of the precision engineering needed for the construction.

And that was how Einstein station was built. Two masses of monopolium, weighing as much as Old Earth in SolSys, orbiting around each other at a distance of about one point two kilometers, generating as much power as a G-type star. Were this power was in the form of light, the ten km sphere around the two orbiting masses would have a temperature of twenty-two trillion trillion degrees. But Einstein’s power was not wasted in random radiation. Rather, it was collected, and beamed via lasers to receiving stations all over the Alexandria system, even those in the Oort Cloud colonies. Fully fifty percent of the power was beamed to the system’s J-Node, Keiymoshaon.

Einstein station, from the inside, looked a lot like the interior of a heavy industrial plant from an ultratech area. The walls were all lightweight, as were the floors and ceiling. Luckily, the tiny lumps of monopolium outside relegated the tremendous gravity down to only twenty-four gees. Waiting for them in the entrance was what looked like a very small baseline, wearing what looked like a suit from Atomic Age Earth. Takete knew, however, that it was the station’s AI manifesting itself with utility fog, which was probably filling the whole room. The AI’s avatar had a large, thick mane of grey hair and was barefoot.

The avatar spoke.

The avatar spoke with an accent that Takete couldn’t quite place, although e thought it might be Information Age or earlier.

wave energy plant.>

-And I am Takete. These are my co-inspectors Oneno, Maluma and Een.-

The team flowed behind the avatar as e led them through a passage that opened out onto a large hexagonal room. The floor of this room was transparent, and for an instant Takete thought that there was nothing there.

The avatar gestured to the floor.

Takete looked and saw a grayish circle. The two silvery dots of monopolium, each weighing as much as Old Earth, were orbiting around each other so fast that they could not be distinguished. According to a sidebar datafeed from Albert, the spheres were orbiting each other once every ten milliseconds.

Albert went on.

Takete opened a viewscreen. On it e saw the familiar tetrahedral lattice of diamondoid with what looked like a small ring encircling a group of atoms. This was obviously the string, wobbling like mad in response to the spacetime fluctuations. When they had finished collecting information from the ufog, they were led into the next room. After flowing through another passageway, the team came to a room identical to the previous one, except it had a raised diamondoid platform in the centre, on which were several discs of diamondoid. The avatar went over to the pile and picked one up. E seemed to have difficulty moving it, even though e was made of utility fog. E places it next to them and asked them to look at it very closely.

At first Takete thought it was transparent, but on closer inspection e found a tiny ringlike imperfection in it. These were cosmic strings, as e had learned earlier from the introductory datastream. The most efficient means of gravitational wave energy extraction in the terragen sphere, and yet they massed only a few kilograms. Of course, in this high gravity environment they weighed nearly a tenth of a tonne. Also on the platform was a large hexagon, comprised of smaller hexagonal units. These were the diamondoid discs, deformed into hexagons.

Albert broadcasted a datastream explaining the simple method of converting distortions in space into electrical energy. Apparently the cosmic string’s vibration caused distortion of electron orbitals in the carbon atoms resulting in a net voltage on one side of the diamondoid slab. This energy was then transferred throughout the structure by superconducting cables, which lead to the laser beam generators, which in turn sent power all over the system.

-That’s quite enough. I suggest that nobody moves.-

This short broadcast came from one of the room’s corners. Oneno had manifested as a very short nearbaseline, and was holding a small translucent blue cube, the same color as a liquiform’s nanofluid body. The cube was immediately recognizable as an ultratech containment chamber for heavy-duty amat. A ten-centimeter cube like Oneno’s could hold up to forty kilograms of amat.

Oneno continued. -You well know that I cannot allow this venture to continue in your hands. Surrender this station to the Paradigm.-

The avatar, Albert, spoke.

Everyone was talking at once.
-Oneno, how could you-!-
-You traitor, you-!-
-Maximization-!-

BANG! Albert hit all their datastreams with high-power white noise. Into the sudden silence, e sent:

-That may be so, but I have my secret weapon.-

Oneno held up the femtotech container.

-This femtotech containment module contains one kilogram of superdense amat. Upon detonation it will release approximately one hundred and eighty quadrillion joules, which will destroy most of this station’s superstructure. The container can be triggered three ways. I can detonate at any time, if I feel like it. The countdown will start if the nanofluids composing my body are deactivated. Or, as a failsafe, the container will detonate in a fixed time that I set. Thus, if you try and neutralize me, the amat will detonate.-

Albert looked pensive.

Oneno’s manifestation fuzzed a little, and then reconstituted itself.

-Ah yes, simple general relativity. Being close to such huge masses has caused a gravitational time dilation effect. But anyway, you have eight minutes time IN HERE to cede this station and all the technology to the Paradigm. Until then I-

Oneno’s speech was cut off by an abrupt interruption of e’s manifestation. E’s liquiform body lost all shape and flowed to a corner of the room.

very slowly. So there will be no failsafe detonation, nor willful suicide. Nonetheless, assuming e wasn’t lying, we have eight minutes to either stop the countdown or move the cube to a safe place.>

Maluma was first to speak. -Ok. We can’t stop the countdown. Not even Albert or Aleyshon could disarm a high-order ultratech device, and lightspeed signal delay means we can’t get help from Keiymoshaon. We can’t let it explode here; if the containment systems are destroyed, the resulting energy release from the collision of the monopolium spheres will kill everyone in the entire system. We are left with dumping it into Thebes or throwing it into deep space.-

-Seven minutes now.-

< -Seven minutes will take an acceleration of one hundred and seventy-three gees. I have determined a method for doing so. If you mount the amat container on the bow of Star Nine, you should be able to deliver the amat in time. I am transmitting the necessary parameters to Aleyshon now.>

-That probably wouldn’t be too hard for Aleyshon. Given e’s extra plasma processors, a route could be calculated with an error of less than one part in, well, billions. We’d go into a low orbit over the cloud tops, and have to avoid DWIZs, but it would work.-

As the data flowed to Aleyshon’s plasma processors, a slightly smaller ship was approaching Einstein station. It was the security team sent from Rameses. Running on a slower but reliable conventional antimatter-catalyzed fusion drive, the patrol ship Sunset Four shot through space trailing a thousand-meter line of incandescent plasma. The ship would arrive in twenty hours, where its crew of assorted bionts and vecs would disembark and neutralize the traitor. Through the main viewscreen, the crew was astounded to see Star Nine fire up its engines and leap forward at what must have been nearly two hundred gees. No biont could have survived it. But liquiforms, blurring the line between vec and upload, were designed for conditions such as this. Their liquid bodies could survive up to three thousand gees and shrug off radiation up to about four million RADs. Despite having transcended to S2 less than a year ago, Aleyshon was already about to make the most dangerous voyage of eir career. And on the bow of Star Nine was a small blue cube.

The Star Nine shot through space, accelerating all the while, its conversion engine blasting out a line of superheated matter so hot it radiated away in the extreme ultraviolet. As it drew closer to Thebes, the gas giant grew larger and larger until individual clouds and DWIZs could be discerned. Very close to the cloud tops, the order was given to release the container. Almost immediately thereafter, Star Nine‘s drives braked, briefly, opening the distance between the cube and the ship. Then the drives roared, as Aleyshon fought to provide just enough change in trajectory to miss Thebes, skim the atmosphere, and race away back into space. Free of the ship, moving at the velocity imparted to it by the frantic race towards the gas giant, the container dropped like a stone. There were fifty-four seconds left.

Passing through huge puffy ammonia clouds in a roar of plasma, the superfast cube smashed through layers of hydrogen and methane. Seconds passed… and then a timer reached zero. The cube dissolved, melting into the atmosphere, exposing a kilogram of antimatter to a sea of matter. At the atomic level, hundreds of millions of billions of atoms found antimatter counterparts and promptly blew themselves apart. Normal matter eventually eroded the amat down, in the process of which they unleashed huge amounts of energy. From Star Nine the flash was clearly visible. The explosion had caused some hydrogen to fuse, nearly doubling the energy. Fusion is not a runaway process, so the blast did not consume the giant planet. However, the shock wave of the explosion was visible from orbit, slowly propagating around the planet.

Star Nine spent the next half-day climbing out of Thebes’ huge gravity well up to a station orbiting Luxor to talk to Oneno. After docking, the three entered virchspace to talk to Oneno before e’s trial. They found themselves in a legal virch that consisted of a large table and three chairs for their biont avatars. Oneno was already seated on the other side of the table. It turned out that while Aleyshon had piloted Star Nine towards Thebes, the patroller Sunset Four had taken Oneno into custody and transported em down to Luxor. E had obviously recovered from e’s angelnet-induced ‘sleep’ by now.

-I have ten minutes until the trial. The case is Oneno Allouhirtay vs. TRHN, so I have no chance. The angelnet data is being examined by Keiymoshaon emself. Well, at least a part of Keiymoshaon.-

Oneno’s expression was one of extreme anxiousness.

-I don’t have a chance of escaping. You can’t let them do this! I was your colleague, your friend! You can’t let them send me to one of the confinement virches!-

Maluma twitched. After all e had done, e was asking them for forgiveness? That was presumptuous to the point of downright stupidity. Look what E had been accused of! Blackmail, Theft and Possession of Restricted Materials — it was impossible to testify against, given the mountain of angelnet evidence that not even the greatest archai could shift.

-No, Oneno. I simply can’t appeal to the judiciary, after what you’ve done, or tried to do. It’s what you deserve. There really is no other logical option.-

Oneno’s expression changed. At that point an alarm sounded, meaning e only had fifteen more seconds. With an expression of pure malice, e said

-You’re going to regret that.-

And then e disappeared.

What Happened Next

Oneno was sentenced to four hundred years (internal time) in a confinement virch, but e was broken out by pro-Paradigm virchspace operatives. E’s current location is unknown.

Albert continues to be the controller of Einstein station. So far, no one else has tried to make him cede the station.

Takete, Maluma and Een are still colleagues and contact each other often.

Aleyshon is still piloting spaceships for a living, although a copy of e’s is doing research in gravity-wave interferometry.

Omegarapture is as inscrutable as ever, although there are rumors of plans to equip a new ISO with a gravity wave energy plant.

*****

More about the author, Linus Cohen, here.

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