11 July, 2011

[SFAP] Chapter 6:8

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

Jane and the rest of the passengers sat in the canteen while all around them people gently floated in the zero gravity that the room had not been designed for. All around them was the clear mix of those who were old hands at this and those who were still getting used to it. The main indicator being the former looked quite relaxed given the hostage situation they were in, the latter were mostly looking for sick bags.
“You’re kidding they can’t disassemble half the ship in the middle of space?” asked Laurence
“Don’t be too sure, this is one of the things you employed me for originally remember, and the engines are the latest mass produced fusion units, designed for maximum ease of maintenance, for maximum safety, maximum modularity, maximum reliability, minimum training, at the slightest problem they are deactivated and then swapped out with the minimum possible labour” replied Jane
“Meaning they’re designed to be easy to replaced?”
“Meaning this ship was built with lots of spare engines, there are twelve engines in total; the design is that half of them can fail and even then the remaining engines need never go above fifty percent throttle. In other words if you’re prepared to take the risk nine out of the twelve engines could completely fail and we’d still be able to complete the trip without incident.
“But yes the engines have built in thrusters and even a built in navigation system, all our captors have to do is get access to the control terminal on each engine and tell it to move to their ship, couple it up to a water supply and they’ve got themselves a state of the art engine.”
“We build those engines then?” asked Laurence
“Wow I knew you’d pulled back from the commercial end of the company to concentrate on your research, but yes, those are ours, on lease actually so they are technically your engines they’re stealing”
“It was the perfect husband and wife partnership, you run the company from a top level, I get involved in the nitty gritty details”
“No you just got fed up of doing the things you hate.”
“That too.”
“Anything else you’ve found out?”
“Apparently they’re leaving us with three engines. Enough to get to our destination safely as long as we start braking now. Seems they don’t want to add mass murder to their list of crimes they’re happy enough to just rob and inconvenience us.”
“All this fuss for just nine engines?”
“Bear in mind just two of those engines would be capable of running this ship assuming no failures. A ship with a departure mass approaching a million tons. Each of those engines can give out half a billion newtons of thrust. Can you imagine what a terrorist group could do with that?”
“Never mind the payload it could carry, what if you turned the exhaust on someone?”
“You’re missing something important here.”
“What?”
“Have you considered how much power one of those engines emits?”
“At full output, a little over two terawatts.” replied Laurence
“Oh, so you have.”
“Yes, look you know what my next project is and the milestone was to make something an order of magnitude more powerful than the most powerful current rocket, so I just worked backwards.”
“Yeah but still this is a fusion rocket engine it’s still very impressive”
“No doubt.”
“And they use aneutronic fusion reactors.”
“I’m sure they do”
“But” continued Jane “You’ve got to pinch the containment field to produce a relatively small region where the power is produced.”
“All very impressive”
“While they are much more complex to build, they are easier to run on the ice available commonly.”
“Sounds good”
“Stop doing that.” screamed Jane
“What?”
“Ignoring me, at least I take an interest in you when you wander off on one.”
“I’m not ignoring you; I just have my own things to think about.”
“Like?”
“Like how we get back our engines.”
“Now I know the teenage hormones are going to your head.”
“No I’m serious. If I remember one of your reports then shouldn’t these engines have a lockout system built in to prevent them from being abused like this. I remember something about a killswitch, some lockdown code or something?”
“Which I don’t know off the top of my head”
“Right and who does?”
“Stock management team back home I guess”
“Can we contact them?”
“Not in time no, they’ll be leaving in less than twenty minutes and we’re too far away to send a signal and get a reply”
“Any other safeguards? Any viruses we could plant?”
“No we build our engines so that civilians can’t sabotage them.”
“You must have some trick up your sleeve.”
“If you can get to an airlock and manually access the control panel on each engine then yes. Otherwise they’re designed to be fool proof.”
“Then let’s do that.”
“You saw the result of the last firefight”
“Hang on there’s an announcement on the screen.”
It appeared to be a message from the captain of the Prefect “Well the choice is yours now despite all you have tried to do. Either follow standard procedure and assume that two out of your three remaining engines could fail and start braking now, or ignore what just happened and carry on to your destination without delay and arrive perfectly on time with the knowledge that in case of failure you’re dead. The choice is yours it’s out of our hands, goodbye.”
Laurence and Jane looked at each other.
“Looks like we’re going to be late to Saturn then” remarked Laurence
“Would you take the risk?”
“Maybe yes” mused Laurence “I’m off to talk to the Captain”
“Why”
“To make sure we get to Saturn on time, what we are building there is even more important now.” with that he swam out of the room leaving Jane behind.

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