31 May, 2011

[SFAP] Chapter 4:4

This is the fourth section of the fourth chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.

“Okay we’re recording.” Alice paused “James why did you do this?”
“Do what?”
“Start all this, not your plans for the insurrection, but the mining, humans had abandoned the belt after the Habitat arrived, what was the point? But yet you’re here thriving, how and why?”
“It needed doing, we were missing out. Out here is our chance. The Habitat is a dead end, a very comfortable dead end. A guilded cage with an open door, but still a cage to the mind.”
“Yes but how? How can you make money and attract people to work here when everything at the Habitat is already free.”
“What you miss is that everything in space is already free, well as near as damn it.”
“Go on”
“All the mining is done robotically. Once you’ve paid for them in the first place and aside from a few minor servicing and tools costs they’re practically free to operate. They may not be as efficient as a human miner, but it doesn’t matter, for the moment there’s an effectively infinite amount of exploitable material out here, and they’re getting more efficient all the time. Simple factories and refineries have been effectively robotic for a few centuries now; all we had to do is add a few supervision AIs and all the basic products are made purely from the cost of the initial capital investment. As for habitat construction, with the right mix of pre-fab and over-engineering the limit is how fast we can get the materials between orbits for an acceptable cost in propellant.”
James continued “So no the money isn’t great on the face of it, but it doesn’t have to be. One of the forces that have driven humans over the years is the need to make things better, the desire to do more than anyone has done before. If that is to impress a mate or just for personal satisfaction it doesn’t matter but you’d be surprised the number of people who want to make a difference in a way that the Habitat can’t let you.”
Alice continued with her interview and moved onto the next set question, “If it’s all automated, what do you need people for out here? I know there’s millions of people out here.”
“Yeah, and what do they do? Check on what is being sent where, get involved in the processes even if they aren’t actually needed but because it is interesting. Look machines can stamp out spoons in a factory all day but a craftsman gets great pleasure from making his own. It’s the same here; people enjoy having a real perceptible effect on the real world. For those who that’s not their cup of tea there’s all sorts of other things that need doing. Once you have a few people you need more people to support them. That’s all most people out here are, supporting other people. Sure there’s a very few people who they actually do get in to maintain the machinery, but then the AI is taught to duplicate what they did and in the future it’s usually able to fix it.”
“It can’t be that simple”
“Well no, not once you get past our mining and production operations and into the military, but that’s another story.”
“How do they differ?” asked Alice
“On the military ships they try and keep the AIs doing as little as possible; there’s some decisions the AI is allowed to make, but that’s only when it is situations where decisions and actions must be taken faster than a human can react, otherwise as much as possible is given to humans to do.”
“This sounds like a waste of resource.”
“Not really humans are more adaptable. A well trained human is still a better problem solver than our best AI, and in combat when your ship is being shot at and things are breaking much faster than you can repair them, then you need problem solvers. Not only that, in a human the brain and the hands to fix the problem are the same being, with an AI they are separate and in a battle situation where jamming is common then you can’t risk the brain losing communication with its hands. For the moment humans are best placed to do that, that’s why you’ll find the military has so many well trained people up here, they’ll lend them out to other facilities to keep them trained, but they’re lending them out for perfectly selfish reasons. Now if there was a major conflict most concerns operating out in space would be stuffed both the civilian liners and the Jovian bases at Jupiter and Saturn – almost all the engineering staff are military. Here at the asteroids we’ll probably be okay because we don’t get involved because we’re not interesting to them. Well not yet anyway, by the time people see this recording they probably will though.
“Anyway, where was I, oh yes. Have you not actually sat down and looked at the real costs up here, all the robotics and AI I’ve described is currently all machine producible, not only that, thanks to all our work here the robots are increasing in numbers at a faster rate than the humans. Now true, the robots are doing ever more for us, so ever more of them will be needed, but even now look around, the quarters available here are larger than the average person’s down on Earth. Now that’s now dictated by our new efforts to try and reduce the amount of artificial environmental control, which requires massive amounts of space per human; but all that is easy, the new construction robots are building habitats at almost frightening speed; and most of what is going in them is ocean and forest. True none of then begin to rival the Habitat itself, but we strive to improve. But no we’re proud of our ability to build so many small habitats that are mostly biosphere”
“Whoa stop, where’s the money in that?”
“Easy, for a start of there’s a lot of idealism here and sociology so it’s not all about money, but even if you look at the cold bottom line with the current excess of materials and construction robots it’s cheaper to build ten thousand square meters of habitat and allow the ocean and forest to take over than it is to build one square meter of carefully environmentally controlled living space. Simply because the robots aren’t yet able to build and maintain the environmental control to the degree needed.”
“I thought that when they tried to use biological methods they all failed.”
“Yes that was true, but that was for the early space habitats and when they were trying to have a small fraction of the mass devoted to life support. Look at the famous Contrafibularity, a huge massive torus of water. At the time that was a revolution – if you’ll pardon the pun when applied to rotational artificial gravity – it was a revolution because it was considered stupid. It had far too much mass to be useful as a fast transport, but it didn’t matter; the builder had a cheap source of engines and it was designed for long missions where the crew had to be self sufficient and last for a couple of years at a time. It was a closed system and that was all that was needed as long as you weren’t in a rush. It was, for local traffic completely stupid, but it was the first ship to reach Saturn because although it didn’t have speed, it did have range. The primitive biosystem they managed to support in that ring of water was effectively a basic ocean that they could rely on for all their food and oxygen requirements. Not only that it also provided their radiation shelter and thermal radiator for their reactor; a relic, but a very significant step forwards – it demonstrated that if you could spend the mass, then a biosystem and a large one at that was far better suited for long term space residence than any other system. So stable in fact that during one of its later voyages one of its competitors became unstuck and had a major environmental failure, they berthed the two ships together at the destination to survive the journey home and the biosystem coped with a doubling of the load on it. True half of the original crew had died, the joys of orbits meant that the rescue could only occur at the destination.
“That’s how it got into its current form, by the end of the journey that had merged the two ships together, their engines both working together to deal with the extra mass, but also the now somewhat repaired life support system augmenting the biosystem.”
“Getting back to the question then why did you build this endeavour up?”
“It’s the old question, why does a man climb a mountain? Because he can. Because no one has done it before, beacause others have done it before and he wants to do it better, because others have done it before and he wants to prove he can do it too. Sure look around and most of what you see here wasn’t built by a flesh hand, but that’s been the case for centuries but what built this was built by a human hand. Strange isn’t it? Someone arrives at the Habitat and is awed by the scale of the thing, but people are also awed by what they see here. It’s like the difference between a mountain and the great pyramids. The mountain is far far bigger, but I’d bet you most people are more impressed by the great pyramids. It’s impressive not because of what it is, but because someone did it.”
“And that’s why you strike out against the Habitat.”
“I do not attack the Habitat there’s too many people on there, it would be futile anyway, no I strike out to expand and to do things those who would sit in lazy comfort would not. I seek more for the average man I seek to get us all in space, I seek an end to the tyranny of convenience we have got used to. If people are as lazy as I expect them to be then this will be a very short and productive exercise. If they oppose me, well then they will gain from that too because they’ll live.”
Alice paused “And we’re done. You happy with that?”
“Mostly, fix it in edit maybe.”
“Anything else you want to add?”
“Lots, maybe I’ll try again later there’s so much to explain to people if only they understood”
“You can keep trying to tell them”
“I can only guess though how the world will react to what we’re going to do”

27 May, 2011

[SFAP] Chapter 4:3

This is the third section of the fourth chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.

“And the church never said that those on the Habitat were evil, that was a misinterpretation by those who would separate you from the cloth, it’s a gross misrepresentation by those who want to drive a wedge between the god fearing community and besides” he continued.
Iz sat at the back of the room listening to the man going through his speech about the history of the conflict and why reparations were not necessary by the church but were required of the congregation. At least that was how she saw it. From her perspective the story of how the clergy had reacted to the Habitat was not exactly consistent. While she expected this from any large group of diverse people the outcome for their followers had been a mess. The initial reaction to the discovery of a massive artificial object sharing the Earth orbit was a shock. That it proved the existence of intelligent life outside of Earth caused a schism that wouldn’t be even partially resolved until the Habitat was visited by the first human expedition. There had been a gross fracture along the lines of faith that whatever life had created the Habitat must have been part of God’s creation and to be welcomed, others declared that by definition because they were not on God’s Earth they were devils work and to be opposed. Some argued back that by definition since they lived in heaven they must be holy, and the arguments raged in as many arguments as there were voices. There were even those who declared that presence of the high technology was a sign of the atheist and heretic and so again they were to be opposed.
The visit to the Habitat might have come back with more scientific questions than it answered but at least it did resolve the schism about how to treat the life on the Habitat. It was all artificial life and to all reasonable definitions subservient to human requests. It was therefore safe to treat as one would a domesticated animal. At least the majority seemed to agree on that enough to debate the next question: should humans relocate to the Habitat as it so clearly wanted them to.
From Iz’s perspective the public argument was raged as to ‘did the Habitat class as heaven and therefore something to strive for’ or ‘is the Habitat temptation incarnate and therefore to be shunned’. Each religion and group came to their own conclusion but the word at least from the Vatican was that it was a test from God and that the faithful should not go to this evil place where temptation and vice were rife. The sceptic’s take on this proclamation was that it was more motivated by the desire to keep the flocks on Earth under control. However the proclamation was made and one billion Catholics over the world listened.
Many ignored this proclamation and went anyway. This left the church in an uncomfortable situation. Left on a planet where the infrastructure was degrading because of the mass exodus to the Habitat and the population was falling rapidly the choice was made to send a number of missionaries to the Habitat to ‘watch over those who have given in to temptation’.
The popularity of this astonished many in the clergy, freed of material needs and constrained in a world where the individual had all the freedom an individual could be given - provided they impacted no other individual against their will - morals and past traditions were tested strained and broken. Many saw the problems of such freedom and wanted guidance from others particularly with their copious time and near unlimited opportunity. A new age dawned for the church, but the past proclamation had tied their hands, this place was evil and the only hope for salvation was back on Earth, however those most in need were here and had no desire to return home to the hardships of Earth.
This was the cause of the current strife, some clergy had decided to set up local churches and consecrate the ground. The idea or at least reason given that it was people and acts that made a place holy so with the right intentions and deeds then a place for God could be carved in this unholy creation. This was the event she was attending, the consecration of the first church on the Habitat. Trouble was expected and this was in evidence by a large number of drones she had spotted around the room. Some were stationed very prominently near the doors, some were trying to blend into the crowd, however this was proving less than fully effective since they kept their silvered faces in keeping with the Habitat’s promise that it would not disguise itself or its servants around humans.
Iz relaxed back and tried to watch not the main speaker, but the group, particularly the way that they reacted to the heavy security presence. Well the Habitat would never be so crass as to call it security, often claiming that the drones themselves had decided themselves to attend interesting events. The issue of if the drones actually had free will or if they were merely puppets had never been satisfactorily resolved. Besides whether the drones had decided themselves or were there as security didn’t really matter because although the Habitat was known for its strict rule of not lying it had been known to mislead or at least stack the deck in the past.
Given the crowd of people was mostly those predisposed to a mistrust of technology the drones were being given a wide berth, Iz considered going up to speak to one to compare notes on their view of the event but in her experience it was so hard to tell the difference between those who were their own person and those that were slaved to the Habitat itself that for now she thought it best to just watch and learn. Besides, her getting friendly with the drones would separate her from any future chance to talk to those listening apltly in the audience, better to get their view first then the drones’.
The crowd seemed to be getting used to ignoring the drones and listening to the speaker, he was currently talking about the priorities of faith and its place within a structure of a worldview based upon reason, evidence, scripture and tradition. Latecomers were still arriving but the crowd stirred when one arrived with a drone hovering very close to him. Hovering drones were rare and new, that meant this one was new and that meant powerful. The drones that were around when people first moved to the Habitat appeared to be crude analogues of robots almost misshaped intentionally. Overtime new drones appeared that were more human form with the most common now being human shaped but with a liquid metallic skin that made them stand out. These drones were well known to be capable of shape shifting and some had been seen to be able to mimic surfaces around them and underneath their liquid skin contained propulsion engines giving some of them the ability to fly. The latest drones were a new hovering type that didn’t need visible engines to fly, breaking laws of physics as understood and therefore unnerving most who came across them for one reason or another. They were normally spherical but rumor persisted that that shape was maintained only to distinguish them from the older drones and that they possessed the same capabilities as their larger cousins. The Habitat claimed that these later drones were the product of its latest factories that were more subtle than the coarse factories it had built when it first arrived.
The drone itself carried the markings of a personal guard and this caused a stir. It was well known that such a drone existed for one of two reasons, first if the person in question was a public figure who was likely to be disturbed or hassled by the public – which wasn’t the case because this person was not familiar to anyone and the drone was hovering too close. This left the second case of a drone there to protect others from the person. While such things were rare these days in the early days of the Habitat they had been more common. The story went that those on the Habitat had infinite personal liberty with no laws as such – in fact the Habitat had stated in the past that it saw laws as “chains around the right of every sentient” and that “it was the responsibility of civilised society to help abhorrent individuals not imprison them” – the Habitat viewed the right of every individual to be equal to that of all others and so the price for impinging on another was to be followed for the rest of your life by such a drone. Such a drone would intervene and prevent any contact with that person with any other without a very carefully prescribed protocol to ensure that no personal liberties were being violated. In cases where the infringement was believed to be unlikely to happen again or of the kind that could be detected sufficiently in advance that a surveillance drone in private places combined with the public surveillance would be enough that should the person be detected doing something similar again a drone could be dispatched to intervene. Such a situation was for example commonly used in cases of accused or convicted rape where intervention could be dispatched in time to intervene and the knowledge that they were under constant surveillance and could therefore not complete the crime had always been enough to prevent a recurrence. For more severe crimes such as murder the person was always accompanied by a drone that could intervene at any time.
This placed this newcomer as someone who had committed a severe crime in the past or at least had done something severe while under surveillance to warrant this treatment. The crowd were therefore giving the newcomer a wide berth especially as their pads had no information on this person other than he was known to carry guns and explosives in public. While the lack of background detail was not a surprise given that in cases of punishment such as this the criminal would be given a new background so that they could start a new life if they chose without the past coming back to haunt them, some chose not to and the tattoos he had on his shoulder implied that he had had them reapplied to match those that he had under his previous identity.
Iz tried searching for any information on the newcomer but even with the tattoos as reference there was nothing to go by, it appeared the system was blocking her; which given the situation was not surprising, but still disappointing. She tried to narrow it down by searching through the criminal records from all those that had been shipped here. It didn’t do any good, with the majority of earth’s prison population having been sent here by cost cutting governments over a period of less than a year the records were highly confused. For the moment it seemed all that there was to do with this newcomer was to watch and wait.

25 May, 2011

[SFAP] Chapter 4:2

This is the second section of the fourth chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.

“Come on stop moaning we’re almost there” said Laurence
“Bally slow queue” grumbled Tom staring at the line stretching out in front of them at the boarding gate to the Great Contrafibularity.
“Hey did you hear something” asked Tom
“Yes of course, we’re in a departure lounge; it’s full of people talking”
“No I’m sure I just heard someone shout your name”
“Didn’t hear anything”
“Hey Laurence” came a woman’s voice
“Yep” said Tom turning around trying to locate the source “definitely someone after you.”
“Huh?” Laurence turned round and waved in recognition at a woman pushing her way through the crowd
“Who’s she?” asked Tom
Laurence waved at her in what appeared to Tom’s eye to be an almost restrained manner  “an old friend”
“You’re right there” said Tom scrutinizing the woman as she approached, “How old is she? sixty? Seventy?”
“A gentleman never asks a lady’s age” replied Laurence looking sternly at Tom
“How do you know her?”
“Long story anyway, don’t be rude, she’s almost here.” said Laurence.
Now she was closer Tom took a moment to have a close look at her, if anything his first assessment of her age was a little generous, but it was hard to tell with all the plastic surgery going on these days.
“Sorry, sorry” she apologised as she pushed through the last of the people in a crowd, “God, an advantage of old age is supposed to be people get out of your way, anyway hello.” she said as she flung her arms around Laurence and gave him what looked to Tom like quite a passionate kiss.
“Haven’t seen you in ages” said Laurence making eye gestures in the direction of Tom, “How have you been Jane?” he continued “Here let me introduce you to my companion, Tom”
“Oh” exclaimed Jane “Sorry, new friend of yours?”
“Something like that” said Laurence looking almost embarrassed.
“Something very much like that” replied Tom pumping her hand in a handshake “unsocial blighter can be really difficult, anyway pleased to meet you”
“Oh ignore Laurence he’s like that” said Jane turning back to Laurence, “Hey you look so much better, a right little young man.”
“So how do you know Laurence” asked Tom trying to butt back into the conversation
“Oh well we go way back” started Jane.
“Friend of the family” interrupted Laurence
“Friend?” asked Jane “of the family yes” she said recovering herself
Tom eyed the two of them up and down “Anything I should know here, there’s something going on.”
“Nope” replied Laurence “she’s an old family friend who’s looked out for me for some time, it’s just she wasn’t able to come to Earth” Laurence paused “recently”
“No” said Jane quickly “Joints not up to the trip to Earth anymore.”
“Come on” interrupted Laurence “They want to see our cards”
Jane turned to Tom “And don’t screw up your face like that” she hefted her handbag “and hold this for me will you, I’m not as young as I was.”
“You’re loving this aren’t you?” said Laurence
“Don’t know what you’re talking about” she said turning away to face the customs man.

24 May, 2011

[SFAP] Chapter 4:1

This is the first section of the fourth chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.

Wow Chapter 4 has come along quickly, the chapters were laid out based upon stages of the story rather than length of text, so there's a bit of disconnect.
Again I think it shows that I'm still experimenting with writing styles...

Alarms, sirens, door open, people running down the corridor outside. She tried to gather her thoughts, naked in bed, door open, anyone could see her, no they’re too concerned with themselves. Focus. Emergency, she had to get dressed quickly, get out of here and to her station. She grabbed some clothes and checked her pad. It was directing her to the simulator. Great, another one of Gwen’s tests. She considered stopping to brush her teeth before setting out, or at least grabbing a drink, no Gwen would check the footage if she was too late, it wasn’t worth it. On the jog to the simulator bridge she tried to think of a way to break the news to Gwen that if you woke people up from their sleep every night for a drill then it became part of the routine, not a surprise.
Malka looked around the bridge, thankfully people were still arriving, she wasn’t the last, but she was the commander so she should have been here sooner.
“Status” she mumbled groggily.
“It’s the Habitat”
Her ears pricked up at that one. “What about it?”
“It’s killing them.”
“The Habitat it’s killing them all.”
“Details lieutenant.”
“Thousands of bodies have been confirmed so far, but it looks like there’s a constant stream of them from the Habitat, it’s hard for the orbital telescopes to get more than a fraction of a second’s shot and the others positioned nearer to the Habitat are out of action. Looks like they’ve been taken out by the Habitat.”
That one woke her up. If the scenario involved the Habitat and the slaughter of so many so early on in the game then this would be a serious one. “How long until we are ready to launch?”
“Five minutes.”
“Prep for launch in six then, we need this to work first time. No point missing that party altogether I’d rather be late. Program for double checks on all launch, life support, ammo and weapons systems. I’m not having a repeat of last month’s shambles.” Malka sat down in her chair “And where is Gwen, she’s normally prattling in my earhole at around this part.”
“Admiral Ikari is preparing the rest of the fleet, we’re the scout mission”
“Cannon fodder again. Great, our normal duty.”
Malka waited while around her those under her command checked and re-checked the systems. There was only so much the instruments could tell you and most of those were monitored themselves by AIs, but procedure was procedure. When the time came for the battle the familiarity of the good would be a welcome reminder. All too soon she felt the simulator kick and pound the floor underneath her. They had never simulated a trip to the Habitat before, whilst it shared the Earth’s orbit it was almost a third of a year’s orbit around the Sun. Whilst under the Orion drive they’d get there quickly enough the other ships that could be in the area and the lack of a full out war declaration restricted their use of the drive to very select parts of the journey lengthening it to over a day’s journey. Still at least Malka thought it gave her a chance to catch up on her sleep whilst the information drifted in.
Whoever had designed the chair had been well aware of the problems with space combat, the almost inevitable long waits between information that the vastness of space forced on you. Malka sat down in the chair and engaged the commander’s hibernate function, almost immediately she felt herself drift off as drugs flooded her system. Just as she lost consciousness she felt minor discomfort as the chair plugged itself into her system to supplement her body’s functions. Hoping this would be a realistic simulation a day or so in this thing would stand a chance of bringing her back to her old self and then some. As it was a few hours in this thing might at least be worth a good night’s sleep. She wondered how long this would last for and finally felt her body succumb to the drugs.

23 May, 2011

[SFAP] Chapter 3:5

This is the Fifth section of the third chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.

Sorry for the Delay in posting, between Blogger going down and a holiday for me it's gone a bit wonky...

“Ah, Martin, you’re back”
Martin was just stepping through the locked transparent door that marked the air lock between the new plate and the city plate. “Well just heading home now”
“Mind me joining you?” asked Iz
“Not at all. You stalking me then?”
“I just asked the Hab to let me know when you were back in the city”
“Look, not that it isn’t good to see you, but is something up?”
“What, well no I’m fine, I just wondered if you were okay after your little trip” she outstretched her arm in an attempt to link it with him.
“What that? No nothing wrong there, a little bleak, a little artificial, but give it a chance and it’ll be great soon.”
“You haven’t heard about the land grab then?”
“People moving into the east plate already, I should have expected it really”
“No people are moving into your west plate”
Martin froze at this news. “What, the whole point is that it is to be left alone to be developed.”
“Oh the surface is, apparently there are whole new cities available on the west plate and people are being allowed to move in”
“Yeah I saw it build one overnight and that was just one chamber I guess I shouldn’t be surprised”
“Well there’s that city but otherwise land is being given away on a first come first served basis”
“I thought it was quiet around here.” The park that was the surface of the city certainly had fewer people than the last time he stood here.
“Yeah,” she said somewhat dejectedly “They’ll be back I’m sure when they’re bored of the isolation.”
“It just seems such a daft thing to do, you say anyone can have as much as they want.”
“Yep, for the moment up to whatever fraction of the volume that is unused shared between however many people are asking for it”
“Right so everyone is miles apart from each other.”
“Interestingly enough it’s allowing people to have two spaces, nominally one in a city of their choice and a place in the country. From there on people can trade and subdivide and share out. Seems to be working well so far at least in theory, popular places get divided into small volumes, unwanted places give you huge estates”
“You can either be close to people or have lots of space”
“The currency is social convenience. Interesting.” he paused for a moment lost in thought he carried on, “Well as long as they leave the surface alone. Still I thought we had left all that greed behind.”
“Only because the Habitat gave us as much as we wanted; well except living space, now it’s offering us nearly unlimited space, is it a wonder that in the same way as when we came here we’d try and stuff our faces.”
“You think the Habitat is breeding us to be more greedy and lazy?”
“I never said that. I think by giving us exactly what we always wanted in vast quantities it’s actually trying to breed those qualities out.”
“Anyway, interesting as this is, I just want to get home and have a good rest; fancy joining me?”
“I’d love to, but got an appointment down the centre”
“Anything interesting?” asked Martin
“No just some religious thing, bit of a pain really, but I’ve been trying to cover more of these things as a kind of study into the human mind.”
“Fine,” said Martin half distracted, half weary “Okay catch you later.” and walked off.

[SFAP] Chapter 3:4

 This is the fourth section of the third chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.

“So would you call that a success then?” asked Gwen
“A harsh lesson I thought.”
“But one in which we could find ourselves.”
“This is part of your training isn’t it”
“Always, look you were always going to lose here, you said as much, to be fair you survived which was the important bit.”
“A wounded animal cornered, trapped and frightened, what else was it going to do?”
“You did the job you’ve always been trained to do in a new scenario, you gave the enemy a chance to surrender or face destruction. You did a great job”
“But we still killed it.”
“How long did it take you to suspect it was a single creature and not a vessel?”
“When it had no docking ports and didn’t react to the marines I should have guessed.”
“You were stuck on protecting Earth, and forgot there was more to space than planets.”
“I’ve got to say the whole singularity to attack the moon puzzled me though”
“Oh that, I liked that bit, quite ingenious.”
“What was that then just a distraction?”
“Nope, a postulation on a way to slow a ship down. The space creature was effectively collecting up it’s body’s waste and then hurling it at high velocity to aid itself slowing down. It compacted it as tight as it could and ejected it at a good fraction of the speed of light to transfer as much momentum as it could to its waste.”
“But why destroy a good chunk of the moon?”
“You house train pets to defecate in uninhabited bits of the garden, so I guess it thought the moon was uninhabited. It was doing something no different. As for destroying the orbital structures I guess it wasn’t used to things being in orbit of planets.”
“I can see what you’re building here. I’m not ready.”
“No, but soon.”

11 May, 2011

[SFAP] Chapter 3:3

 This is the thirdsection of the third chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.
 A short post yesterday counteracted by a long one today. While I'm not proud of the writing the GC is something I have been working on for several years, I wish I could into it in even more detail than below, but I try to limit my indulgences.

“What the hell” exclaimed Tom “is that?”
“That would be our ship to Saturn” replied Laurence peering over the queuing people at the window Tom was pointing at.
“That wreck?”
“It’s the largest and longest range passenger ship in existence. Also the fastest way to Saturn at the moment too.”
“It’s hideous”
“It’s functional; you’ve got to remember there’s no such thing as hydrodynamics in space”
“It’s still hideous.”
“I thought you’d been in space a lot.”
“Yeah, personal shuttles between the Habitat and the other odd station. I’ve even visited the asteroid system on one of the new torchships, but that is just appalling.”
“I think it has a certain rugged look.”
“As I said, hideous.”
“Hey it has artificial gravity, more than any of the other shuttles have”
“Yeah but it’s the rotational kind and narrow circumference at that, give me acceleration gravity any day.”
“Just look at it and wonder it’s a triumph of overengineering and then cobbled on ingenuity, I like it.”

The craft before them was the Great Contrafibularity. The core of the craft was the historic Contrafibulatiry built as one man’s quest of brute force over elegance and economy. In the early days of the Habitat when man had only just sent probes to the outer solar system and hadn’t even set foot on Mars never mind the outer solar system the Habitat had made one promise, the end to poverty for anyone on it. The rule had been simple, anything that humans have on offer on Earth it would provide them with in unlimited quantities, constraints of space on the Habitat not withstanding of course. Most people had turned this promise into desires for food and toys of one form or another. At first only the richest of people could make their own way to the Habitat, but then as a network of orbital space stations transit ships and transit craft built up as the majority of humanity flung themselves into getting off the planet as soon as possible getting to the Habitat was within the capabilities of the average human, so the Habitat then started to offer it to anyone. A trip to the Habitat where it would pick you up on Earth in any one of a number of locations in neutral areas and transport you on was offered to every individual on Earth.  For those leaving all you had to do was make it to the collection point and it would take you to the Habitat where all concepts of scarcity would be removed. Billions of people fought to get there as soon as possible, billions more didn’t believe the promise. Governments fell as any individual could leave at any point for no cost. Economies were destroyed as people started shipping goods back from the Habitat at next to zero cost. Regardless of that, for over half the world’s population that chose to go a new age of excess and frivolity, of fast cars, no work and hedonistic pleasure for all. The trend continued ever onwards leaving Earth to recover from the effects of humans, where was now only a few hundred million on the planet. 
On the habitat most of humanity took refuge in indulgence, pleasure and society. Some chose other avenues of entertainment, pet projects they’d always swore they would try were soon completed. Ambition for construction and possession were rendered mute by an endless supply of items from the Habitat and its drones. For a few this wasn’t enough and wanted to carry on pushing the limits of humanity’s knowledge and scope. A few determined people asked the Habitat to create reconstructions of fleets of Saturn Vs or Space Shuttles to explore the inner solar system. A small team even built themselves an orion drive based craft to journey to Jupiter. One man had different ideas; he wanted to be the first man to the outer solar system and set his sight on Saturn, but wasn’t a fan of all the nuclear bombs needed for orion, so he came up with a different plan.
If you studied the current craft from outside hard you could still make out the original craft that had made it there and back for the first time. The most obvious feature from the original was the vast ocean torus. Two kilometres in diameter was a vast torus rotating once every minute giving just over one earth gravity. Hundreds of cables held the great torus in shape, its outer coating of ice forming an efficient self healing meteorite shield for the liquid water within it. The water within it acted as a sea providing food and oxygen for the inhabitants of the craft. Within the sea were a number of submersibles which were the living space for the inhabitants of the craft. The sea also served as a radiation shield from the elements of space, a heat dump and radiator for the engines and a reserve source of propellant should any issues be encountered on the journey. The torus, its enclosing structure and the nano tube cables that supported it were the only parts of the ship to use complex materials but even then where possible off the shelf items such as kevlar and carbon laminates had been preferred. The rest of the ship was built from steel which meant that volunteers to help with construction had been easy to come across.
Where the ship had been truly prophetic was in the engines. Chemical engines were an option, but discarded as being against the spirit of the wandering craft that was the desire; so instead dozens of solid core fission thermal reactors had been used, the same design that had been used in the original expedition to explore the Habitat. With the torus mounted at the front, a long boom four kilometres long covered with heat radiators and the engines at the rear the Contrafibularity was the largest craft ever built at its time by either private or government entity. The fact that it had been built as a hobby project and succeeded in taking people as far away from Earth as had ever been reached made it memorable in the human conquest. All of this would have been impossible were it not for the Habitat’s promise of an end to scarcity, or at least it would have had to wait for the robotic mining of the solar system to be vastly accelerated.
The creator however did not fare as well as his ship, while his attempts to land on a small moonlet in the rings of Saturn was successful, as was his subsequent landing on Rhea, the engines malfunctioned on takeoff and he was killed. This left him with another first as the first man to die on a planetary body except Earth. The small party remaining in the Contrafibularity returned and sold it off to the newly expanding space tourism industries. The Habitat might have removed economics from applying to those within it, but outside of it although technology had given humans access to vast resources rules of supply and demand still applied and money was the way of keeping score, even if the cost of items had plumited.
Over time the original craft was gradually upgraded and retrofitted to increase its comfort and capacity. Numerous cargo bays and ancillary craft were added and it was soon used to set up a small hotel station around Jupiter before that was taken over by military forces. While the original craft was only capable of supporting life in submersibles within the torus, this was now one of the many places on the craft where life support modules existed, the submersibles being maintained for radiation shelters and full gravity exercise and leisure facilities. The majority of people were encouraged to spend their time outside of the limited space available in the submersibles and this had led to the barnacled appearance of the ship with modules and facilities upgraded and changed constantly. It had recently had a significant upgrade to allow it to carry up to two hundred passengers and associated cargo and had had its fission engines replaced with the latest fusion units. The great K7 fusion engines were the seventh generation of the fusion reactor based thermal propulsion system developed after the Habitat had arrived and raised levels of paranoia back on Earth forcing the creation of the first solar navy, the early fission engines - while up to the job and still very common for civilian use - were outclassed by these new breed of fusion engines. With this significant expansion and refit it had been renamed the Great Contrafibularity: over two hundred thousand tons of ship excluding propellant, heading to over a million tons when carrying a full load of ice; boasting luxurious passage to Saturn in less than three months.
Right now with the ice sprayed onto the connecting boom it looked like a barnacled ship had crashed through an iceberg and was stuck awaiting rescue.

“I’m sure it will be much nicer inside, it just had a refit you know.”
“Three months in that thing.” moaned Tom
“Actually I checked, there’s not many people or cargo on this journey so they’ve been able to cut down the journey time, we should be there in about nine weeks. Depends on how much luggage people take of course and the final weight of the passengers.”
“Think I could convince people to shave to save some weight?”
“Guess that’s why they encourage people to use the Gym eh?”
“I’m not sure that would work once you’re on the way, they store the waste until we get there after all.”
“Why? That’s daft.”
“Nope, you’d be surprised when you’re setting up a space colony how useful organic matter is; sure you can lose the water, but the matter at the other end will be important, especially as the ship will want to replenish its food supplies and we’re talking a giant closed system here.”
“I can certainly see why tourism is so rare”
“Hey this journey used to take years, what would you prefer, suspended animation, or as I like to call it probable death?”
“Hell of a hotel they need to have at the other end though”
“Life is a journey you know, besides makes for a hell of a story when you can say where you’ve been and what you’ve seen. Where’s the bragging rights in tourism if it’s no more difficult to get to than the shops.”
“Yeah, but I think I’d rather leave this to the military and the diplomats”
“So why are you going to live there then?” asked Laurence
“Because I’m going to live there.” Tom wasn’t sure he was getting his point across “This is marketed at people having fun, trying to find something to do with their lives and I can’t see why you’d want to do this and just this. I at least have other things at the end of the journey”
“Look the queue is moving I’m sure that’s what’s making you grumpy, grab your bag and let’s get aboard.”

10 May, 2011

[SFAP] Chapter 3:2

 This is the second section of the third chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.

“How’s the ship holding up?”
“Not bad, the new engines are a bit low on thrust but they’re more efficient than we budgeted for so it’s all good.”
“We’ll still make it though”
“Yeah no problems, we had plenty of slack built in. It’s not like anyone is going to rescue us now is it?”
“Very funny.”
“It’s just weird to not be going near any planets, always a part of any journey”
“Well most, still it’ll be eventful enough”
“Assuming they stay on schedule.”
“Oh you know what they’re like, time and orbits wait for no man.”
“Well with their upgrade that’s not so true anymore.”
“Some things about an institution like theirs will be hard to get rid of.”
“I know, but if they don’t need to rely on a slingshot either then they might not stick to schedule”
“It’ll be fine don’t worry.”

09 May, 2011

[SFAP] Chapter 3:1

This is the first section of the third chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.

“I was wondering when you’d show up.”
“Spiffing to see you this morning as well”
“Well I guessed it would have been you who booked the seat next to me”
“I’d hate for you to get lonely, besides I still know hardly anything about you yet.”
“Then my job here is done” replied Laurence grabbing a serviette and adjusting it on his lap.
“How can one so young be so good at being so evasive?”
“I’m only evasive about myself.”
“Yeah I noticed that, you’ll bend my ear about your work, but that’s just to shut me up isn’t it, it’s not about yourself.”
“You know I’d love to make some comment about kids these days not respecting their elders and being too nosey.”
“Privilege of age for me I guess.” said Tom signalling for the waiter.
“Something like that yes”
“I’m still angry with you about that whole you storming off yesterday you know”
“I was going for the comedy exit, you laughed didn’t you”
“You left me to pay the bill.”
“I’ll get today’s then.”
“That’s not the point I know you’re a poor student.” a thought occured to Tom “Well ex student. Well Nobel prize winning student, how many millions is that worth again?”
“Enough to pick up the bill from today I think.”
“Fair enough, extra drinks for me I think” he waved his hand for a waiter again.
“You know I just don’t get it.” mused Laurence “Why do they work here?”
“Who?” asked Tom frantically waving his hand.
“The waiters” replied Laurence “They could be living the life of Rayleigh on the Habitat, everything provided for them, so why are they here?”
“I guess they like the social side of it, it’s certainly not because they take pride in a job well done if I have to try and attract their attention this hard.” he dropped his hand in exhaustion.
“Well if you think you can do it better do it yourself is what they always say.”
“Why do you do the job you do then?” asked Tom “it can’t be that exciting.”
“On the contrary it’s fascinating to make something new, that’s why I stay off the Habitat, sure you can build anything you want there if you know the right people but they’re so hard to find, they’re all like this waiter, supposedly there to help you but disappear when you need them”
“Hang on you said you’d never been to the Habitat, how do you know what they’re like?”
Laurence paused for a moment taking a drink of the water that had been set at the table. “Stereotypes I guess, so why do you do what you do, why aren’t you at the Habitat?”
“It’s all a fixed gravity there, sure it could have variable gravity but it doesn’t bother or at least it won’t let you. Never mind trying to get at the freefall sections at the hub it jealously guards those. I had some colleagues who tried to sneak into some unoccupied spaces in the hub during a visit there. They arrived on the transport at the hub as usual and snuck off before getting into the elevator down to the plate. Well I’m not saying the drones soon found them and held them at gunpoint but...” he let his voice trail off.
“But they did.”
Tom almost jumped forward in his seat in what looked like glee, “They did” he said conspiratorially “and it hasn’t let anyone try it since”
“See this is my problem with the Habitat you don’t own the ground you live on”
“Since when have humans ever done that when there’s someone around the corner with a large pointy stick?”
“What?” asked Laurence
“You know what I mean, medieval surfs didn’t own their own land and could be chased off it at a moments notice because it was more profitable for the landowner to use that land to farm sheep instead of whatever the peasants grew”
“Oh I see,” replied Laurence somewhat wearily “Where is this flaming waiter anyway?”
“Don’t know old chap.” Replied Tom waving his hand in the direction of the waiter again “So how long’s the stop at the next hub.”
“About an hour I think, they don’t like to keep anyone there longer than they have to, they never finished building that last transfer station so although it has its full complement of ships docking at it, the habitation and garden areas were never finished. Here however was over specified at a time when there were dozens of stations competing in LEO, so the best place to park people waiting for transports to the outer orbit is these stations.”
“Seems very inefficient”
“It is, but still cheaper for the station owners than finishing the outer stations. Cheaper for us? Well that’s another question.”
“How do you know all this stuff as a space rookie?” asked Tom “You’re supposed to be an occer not an expert on all things orbital habitat related.”
“Well you pick things up in my business.” Replied Laurence “Anyway so did you have any luck with those ladies last night?”
“Not really no” replied Tom, “Do you remember a time in your life when you were hungry, you know really famished, genuinely not eaten for several days?”
Laurence considered this for a moment “No”
“Well that’s me with sex and women.”
Laurence looked Tom up and down as if he had just stated that he was the solar system’s richest man. “Not sure I’m with you, but you were with a couple just the night before weren’t you?”
“Exactly, I’ve not been hungry for a long time. These days I’m well fed and can have desert on any occasion I choose. Yet somehow I miss those moments from my youth when I was genuinely hungry and then had the revelation of a starving man taking a bite of bread. Nothing tastes sweeter than the relief after a fast. And believe me you can’t emulate that feeling of desperation then satiation. That’s it with kids these days, always well fed, never know hunger, never know true relief that you will live tomorrow thanks to this.”
“Hey I’m single” said Laurence not sure himself why he was quite so annoyed “Look can we stop talking about this subject I’m not entirely comfortable with it.”
“I know I know a young man out into the big world by himself for the first time, so many opportunities so little time. Or even worse in your case, so many opportunities but no idea how to exploit them. That must be driving you crazy.”
“Let’s just say I’m not used to the effect of these hormones and leave it at that.”
“Look you’ve got a choice, and you have plenty of access to any number of – shall we say electronic substitutes”
“As do you.”
“But it wasn’t always like that, where I grew up they hadn’t got around to that yet, you could only watch what you were interested in. ”
“I didn’t think things were that bad as an occer, I know your economies took a hit as did the rest of the world with the arrival of the habitat and the departure of everyone else, but I thought things had recovered in the last couple of decades even if we aren’t so short of space anymore that we need to be under the sea”
“Yes, you’re right I guess, I guess my parents must have just been a bit old fashioned to not have stuff like that on hand.”
“Very old fashioned not to have proper entertainment facilities in the house.”
“It kept my mind focused. Not much time for entertainment, well it was my entertainment, why make things up when you can do something real.”
“What do you think I do that’s so unreal? Bounce around walls?”
“You said it not me.”
“Humm, there really mustn’t have been many people down there if this is how you talk to people. Still I wouldn’t have it any other way old boy, you’re a real refresher you are.”
“Again, this time with sincerity” Laurence tried to keep his voice deadpan
“You really are trying my patience.”
“Sorry, too far that time?”
“No not you, the waiter, sorry old chap kind of talking to myself there.”
“Come on if we wait any longer we’ll miss our boat out of here.”
“That’s not due until tomorrow”
“Your point?”