25 July, 2011

[SFAP] Chapter 8:1

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

Tom floated quietly in the lounge, staring out of the windows.
“Hey Tom been looking for you” shouted Laurence as he swam over to Tom
“Huh, oh yeah sorry I’d been keeping out of the way, a guy can only take so many hints that you don’t want him around”
“What, no I’ve kind of got used to you distracting me.” Laurence said trying to position himself so that he could see Tom properly. Nearly five weeks in microgravity hadn’t helped him master low gravity body control.
“Well you know I kind of gave up, I tried to pull you out of your shell and failed.” Tom said this spinning himself around to face Laurence causing Laurence to feel quite annoyed by how natural it was for him. “I just realised I’ve pushed you so far and when we were going to be stuck here in peril against our will I just thought I should leave you be.”
At this Laurence flinched as his back slammed into the wall having been unable to stop his momentum “Look Tom, I know this sounds daft but I’m trying to start a new life here and you’re the closest thing to a first friend I’ve made out here so please, friends?”
Tom looked at Laurence’s outstretched hand almost with a matter of puzzlement. “Of course, still I’m guessing you have something you bally well want to talk to me about?”
“Not really just try and patch up or depending on your point of view start the friendship”
“Anything you want to talk about? Something on your mind?” asked Tom furrowing his eyebrows in concern.
Laurence hesitated, “I don’t really know, just well” Laurence paused again “I guess I’ve been stuck up in my berth with Jane and we’ve been tearing each other’s hair out for goodness knows how long. I need a break”
“Just call me a distraction then old chap, how can I help?”
“I don’t know, talk to me. What’s your family like, who were your friends at school, what are your political views, what religion are you?”
“Ah” interrupted Tom “That I am happy to talk about”
“What religion? God you’re not an evangelist or something are you?”
“In a way” mused Tom “And a Mormon, a Catholic, a Buddhist, a Wiccan, a Taoist, a Satanist, a Muslim, a Protestant, a Jew, a John Frumist and a few others besides”
“I see, so what do you believe then, little bit of everything?”
“Nope, the best name my group has come up with for this is techno-progressive”
“Well” said Tom settling down into the couch webbing “it’s kind of the idea that the gods are real, right back to the ancient Greek gods, mother Gaia and all those, but that they’re trying to improve us. First they did that in their own ways and their own interests but now that message has been delivered there are other ways they can improve us and get us closer to heaven or Valhalla or wherever.”
“Well they could not and would not want to make us divine like them, there would be no point, there’s lots of evidence that those born into godhood are no better than those before them and those who have it thrust upon them generally seem to go insane so humans now are being guided into achieving godhood. Just look at life on the Habitat – virtual immortality, no scarcity, no crime - and it’s as close to any idea of heaven as has ever been described. Look to even the slightest bit of the future and we are creating paradise from the firmament. We’re even creating our own firmament so we are the gods of creation and if we are to go forwards we must understand the totality of the lessons of the past.”
“So you believe the Habitat is a gift from the gods to give us heaven then?”
“In a sense yes, it was so close to what we could achieve and yet provided in such a way as that some people choose to reject it then I think that makes it a perfect example of a gift from the gods”
“So you really think gods built it?”
“Of course not, but just as I believe they guide our hands day to day to do things we don’t understand, maybe they guided those who brought the Habitat here and those who brought it here don’t fully understand why they did it. Maybe they do, who knows, sometimes an event can seem like a gift or a curse and turn your life into something worse or better it doesn’t matter. It’s the outcome that is intersting here.”
“So if you think it is heaven then why aren’t you there?”
“Unless you missed something heaven is something you achieve, somewhere you reach at the end of your life; I’ve got a lot of life yet to live. I’m not ready for it yet and I don’t think it has much to teach me. No the learning is through hardship and embracing the new, that is one thing all the religions have in common. Well actually that’s not true I’ve not found anything that all religions have in common, but that too is interesting if you treat them all as true and try and follow them all.”
“So you think all religions are true, you follow all their teachings?”
“Goodness no, even trying to follow a single religion with centuries of human interference is impossible. No we’re trying to go back to something that looks at the core of each of the religions and incorporates them together without the baggage of later years.
“Back to the simpler days when Thor just threw around thunderbolts”
“Almost, take them as an example; a simple interpretation was that it was all about the dying nobly for your tribe. What we call the bee defence, through a series of memes persuading people to override the conscious mind to do more primal things. However there’s more to it than that, look at Gaia, that was about living in harmony with your environment, or the druids with their interest in the soul and astronomy”
“So what about Christianity?”
“It’s a mess, we treat that as an attempt to do through a god what we’re doing now through a religion.”
“Don’t you admit here that you’re just making up your beliefs as you go along?”
“No because the core of the belief is that there is a fundamental truth behind all of this and what we’re doing is the search for that truth, this search may reveal any number of gods and contradictions on the way, but the belief, the core is the search. We believe that those who went before us were no more stupid or ill informed than we are in these things and that they were probably onto something and deserve our attention to what they came up with. Look through the ages and without exception the best minds of their day have all weighed in on the arguments and if nothing else we should first study what they had to say.”
“You think people think those in the past were stupid?”
“More that people seem to assume that either everyone in the past was a complete idiot and that these days we’re far more enlightened or that the past was always better and we tend to make things worse. One of the tenants of our belief acknowledges that the Greeks for example were some quite clever chaps but that they didn’t know everything but that that perspective from a limited view is a valuable one. Take a beetle; look at the world from it’s viewpoint and you understand evolution and have new insights into the way the world works, a different limited viewpoint to your own can often teach you things you never expected. Likewise things weren’t all that great historically and that would skew your view of religion. You can’t interpret the old testament from a modern viewpoint because society’s values have changed as they had to as the realities of life changes. A static set of beliefs in a changing world is very dangerous and we accept that but for our purposes understanding why people in that situation thought that is what we have to filter out.”
“So have you as a group come to any conclusions?”
“You mean apart from the concepts of be nice to each other, empathy and curiosity. No not really it’s not about the concepts that someone else tells you, it’s about the search you conduct yourself.”
“So what about me, how does an atheist fit into your viewpoint?”
“You are the man who either doesn’t search for god or it doesn’t interest you, or you see the evidence and incorporate it into your core being without ascribing supernatural forces to it. You have morals and values but they’re not handed down they’re determined by yourself. Or at least they are determined by your peers and you accept them. But as a matter of course you seek to ignore those who don’t believe as you do. That’s how I see it anyway, others may be different.”
“But you said that in your view you also have to determine it for yourself that no one prescribes what you do. You like me make up your own rules rather than accepting those of others and taking that which you don’t agree with as a matter of faith. I thought that was what made organised religion, that you were forced to accept that which you disagreed with as part of the larger matter of faith.”
“As opposed to a bunch of stoned students, maybe, I mean there are a number of discussions to be had but I’m not the man I’m really am a better listener than a talker on this subject, it’s as much about a group of people that I resonate with as opposed to a strict set of rules and rituals.” Tom’s pad beeped an alarm “sorry to do this old chap” he continued “I’ve got a dash bit of an appointment to keep.”
“No don’t bother for me I’ll see you around.” he watched Tom leave and shouted after him “Oh and remind me to talk to you about something you did for Jane.”
“What are you talking about old chap?”
“We’ll talk” with this he watched Tom leave.
As Tom drifted off Laurence looked at the ship on the window. They were almost ready for docking with the base and it was quite clearly visible out of the window as was the Viper test facility and the hull of the prototype colony ship. It was still covered in the ice scaffolding that was used here where it was the cheapest resource available. The colony ship, his baby, his dreams encased in a delicate scaffolding, a shining metal and carbon seed pod for humanity encased in a multi mile long snowflake. However what he couldn’t help but catch the eye was that the military’s knock off carrier had arrived here first just as promised. They must have only just arrived though in the last few days because the droplet radiators were still running, glowing red dumping off the excess heat that they had built up from the waste heat from their engines from the arrival. They really had just scaled up the design of the colony test ship. The biggest change was the removal of the centrifuge section. In the original design there had been a large torus which formed the habitation section of the ship; fairly standard civilian spacecraft design. In its place were four large pods arranged around the drive core but separated from each other by some five hundred meters or so. From the look of it each pod was a standalone ship in its own right, probably they had been a ship once or at least had intended to be, now in the interest of rapid deployment they had just took four smaller ships, and glued them onto the much larger engine frame. In fact he could see, each pod had what looked like nine K7 engines attached to the back of it. In the frame holding the pods to the drive core at the centre were the first of the fuel tanks, placed there to shield against any residual radiation that escaped the core. Even though each of the pods would have been well armoured to shield against nearby weapons discharges it never hurt to have more shielding if it came for free he supposed. Finally in the middle was the drive section. Towards the aft of the drive section sixteen K7 engines were just visible. These were kept maybe two hundred meters behind the line of the habitation pods. Laurence pondered how the new fusion engine designs had changed ship propulsion, traditional ships with their fission drive engines all had the engines so far behind the habitation section it made every ship look like a hideously elongated dumbbell; occasionally with wings of heat radiators visible depending on the angle you saw it from, but he always heard the dumb in dumbbell every time he saw one. Here was this vessel that he couldn’t decide if it looked hideous for flouting every design instinct in his body, or beautiful for the freedom of design the lead engineer had. Something was wrong though, he couldn’t see the AM drive; he’d been told they’d fitted it or at least started to, then he noticed far off in the distance the spherical pod that marked the start of the drive unit. With this he turned up the magnification on his pad that he was using to annotate the image in front of him.
There it was, clear as day now, the almost hair like tube connecting the reaction chamber at the fore end to the habitation section near the aft. Looking closer along the tube he could see the focusing coils and injection units all along the tube.
The principle of the AM drive was very simple; in the reaction chamber matter and antimatter were mixed to annihilate violently. The chamber clearly visible at the far end of the tube emitted a gamma ray rich plasma down the tube, in fact at this point there was so little matter compared to the gamma ray content that to call it a plasma wasn’t strictly correct. The coils along the tube used energy in the gamma rays to accelerate the rest of the plasma up to high speed. This momentum was coupled to the coils. The coils were attached via high strength cabling to the main vessel which was right at the back of the tubes. By the time the plasma reached the end of the tubes the photons were no longer gamma rays but were now in the microwave region or lower and the hydrogen from the plasma was travelling at a good fraction of the speed of light, having gained enough mass that very little propellant was actually needed. Two huge theoretical physics breakthroughs though had been needed to make this drive possible. The first concerned the ability to produce the near perfect reflector that was needed in the reaction chamber and the early stages of the drive tube to confine the reaction to the tube. This breakthrough came as the first hints at how to manipulate the strong interatomic force, soon an ability to control gravity on the quantum level allowed some very interesting focusing lenses for the drive unit. The second was to transfer the energy of the reaction into the particles in the stream. This second discovery was the result of material captured from the Habitat, this time the reverse engineering of a drone’s propulsion unit. This ability in a space as short as the five kilometre tube to accelerate the particles up to relativistic speeds was what made this drive revolutionary: combining a very high thrust with high fuel efficiency.
All along the tube were accelerator rings that coupled the energy in the photons into the matter stream, and the momentum from the matter streams acceleration into cables that literally towed the rest of the ship behind it. To each of these rings was attached support CNT cables which then linked this trust back to the payload at the back of the ship. The ship therefore wasn’t pushed along by the AM drive, but was pulled by it, the only exception being the reaction chamber at the fore section whose motive thrust was provided by the first few hundred meters of tube linked by a rigid structure. Also at the fore end were the antimatter tanks and the associated ejection equipment, although in the case of most containment failures the antimatter explosion itself would provide more than sufficient force to disperse the material, although in this case up to ninety percent of the crew was likely to be lost with the initial explosion. Combine this with the fact that without the engines the ship could never stop made this drive design a concern for widespread use.
At the moment the drive relied upon hydrogen and anti hydrogen generated by an onboard antimatter generator. The fact that the generator had been built to supply power for the construction facility and eventually would have been fitted to the colony ship on it’s journey to another star system didn’t stop the military from ‘requisitioning’ it. Fortunately the warning they had and the huge surpluses of antimatter it could produce meant an ample reserve could be built.
Laurence couldn’t help see it as Fillwick Enterprises’ finest hour. He’d have preferred that hour to be as a colony ship expanding the human platform, but he’d long since made peace with the fact that at the end of the day it all came down to the military. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but that was only because a pen could be proxy for a great number of swords. It all came down to this, who can build the biggest most powerful weapon. They really didn’t get bigger than this; the exhaust alone from this ship could devastate planets by accident, what would it do with a Captain that meant harm?
Laurence used his pad to zoom in on the name written on the side “The Freedom they called it eh” he mumbled to himself “typical bloody jingoists”.

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