Sunday, July 1, 2012
Science Fiction Sanity
Diners at the Memory’s End
Copyright 2012, Raymond Frazee, All Rights Reserved.
Note: this is is being written as you read it. It is a first draft, and as such, it may be presented with typos. Please excuse these, and remember that everything will be nice, clean, and near perfect, when you buy this story. Remember--you get what you pay for.
Thursday, 2 October, 3183
The campus was seemed very much deserted, but that was to be expected this early on a rainy Thursday morning. The whole week had seen nothing but rain, day and night, but Albert knew that was nothing unusual for this time of year for the New Oxford region. It was like this in the fall and the spring, and anyone out walking around who didn’t have a brolly was going to get soaked.
Not that Albert minded. He liked walks in the rain. He liked the silence that fell over everything, save for the patter of water on the trees and ground. He loved the cool air upon his exposed skin. The way his breath left a trail of mist behind him. He’d throw on one of his waterproof coats, a hat that would keep the rain out of his hair and eyes, and set out—
Like this morning.
Rather than pop in at the transom station closest to the Science Building, Albert went to one on the edge of Madgalen College. The walk into the campus was rather deserted, but that’s what he wanted. He was looking to spend some time, walking alone with this thoughts, enjoying this dismal, damp morning—
To his right and some ten meters back, Meredith was jogging quickly to catch up. Albert was surprised to see her wearing a skirt and aqua blouse under her long, brown coat, and if he wasn’t mistaken—yeah, she was wearing a very low heeled shoes. As she came along side, she adjusted her wide-brimmed hat, which seemed like a slightly feminized version of the hat he was wearing.
She expelled a huge gasp of air, then paused, slightly doubled over, before taking a cool, fresh breath. “Ahhh!” She stood straight and smiled. “I didn’t know if I’d catch you—”
“You knew I’d be out here?” Albert started to wonder if she’d tapped into the security network once more.
A puzzled look crossed her face. “I know this will sound strange, but it’s like I knew you’d decided to walk in from outside campus.”
Albert smiled softly, but his mind was going in many different directions. She’s got to be a little psychic: I wonder if she’s ever been tested? “Well, good thing your feeling was correct.” He looked about the near-deserted grounds. “Otherwise you’d be out here alone in this shit.”
Meredith started walking in the direction of the Science Center. “Wouldn’t want to do that.” As always she started in her normal gait, then slowed up so Albert could stay along side. “Besides, with all the excitement I’m feeling, I’d hate to make this walk alone.”
For a second Albert thought she might reach out and take his hand, but she held back. “We wouldn’t have wanted that to happen,” he said quickly, so neither would feel an uncomfortable silence fall between them. “Why all the excitement, by the way?”
Meredith gave Albert a very strange look. “What, haven’t you been paying attention?” She laughed loudly. “What were we planing at the library Tuesday, huh?”
After saying nothing for almost five seconds, Albert burst out laughing. “I’m just jackin’ with you, Mere,” he said. He gave her shoulder a pat. “Of course I know; later today, we get to take readings on a dying star.”
The news had consumed most of the students of Professor Koltzer’s class the last three sessions: the light from the CQ Draconis would reach the University system on 3 October, and nearly every observatory was preparing to allow students from all over the planet to access their data from their ground and space-born gatherings.
CQ Draconis was a cataclysmic variable, a binary system in the constellation of Draco, that consisted of a red giant and a white dwarf in close proximity to each other. Systems such as this were known as “cataclysmic”, because after that white dwarf had pulled in as much material as it could from the companion star, things tended to happen—fast. CQ Dra, as it was also known, had gone through these cycles ever since it was first observed.
In the last hundred years, however, astronomers had noticed that the peaks of the cycle were becoming far more energetic. The speculation was that the red giant companion was loosing far too much material now, and was in the process of being torn apart. The light curve from this most current cycle had been seen in other parts of the empire for a while, but the wave of electromagnetic energy was finally reaching this portion of the Hyades Star Cluster, and University.
Astronomy students from all over were waiting for later in the afternoon to be able to tie into the data streams, so they could conduct their own observations. Everyone was psyched—but Albert, with his usual air of pessimism, was concerned things wouldn’t go smoothly . . .
He only had to look around him to know things weren’t going to go smoothly. He’d checked the planetary weather when he got up, and, as was pretty common this time of year, the planet was covered in bad weather. There were three observatories that could watch CQ Dra over the next few days, and two of them were experiencing what one might call it “atmospheric occlusion”—a fancy name for overcast skies.
Albert expected that if viewer locations were cut because of weather, the pros here would start hogging data for their own reasons. Never mind there were already years of observations of this current cycle: scientists be scientists, and they wanted to do their own observing.
And if that meant cutting the students out of the loop, so be it.
As they entered the Science Studies Building, both Meredith and Albert shook off their hats, scattering the excess water. “Do you think there are going to be problems later today?” she asked.
“To be honest . . .” He thought about giving her a bullshit answer, but figured it was best not to be too dishonest with his study partner. “If this weather keeps up like it is, all over the planet, we’re gonna get screwed.”
Meredith didn’t seem to shocked by Albert’s response; he figured, being a bright girl, she’d already come to the same conclusion. “There’s still the orbital platforms—”
“Of which there are only two.” Albert side-stepped around two guys standing in the middle of the hall, seeming unconcerned they were hindering traffic. This was one of the few times he missed not having his telekinesis, so he could throw them against a wall and move them out of the way. “They took the third one down at the beginning of the week to re-collimate the mirror system, remember?”
“Oh, damn, right.” They bounded up the stairs towards the Melinac Lecture Hall, where Professor Koltzer held class. “It’s not looking good.”
“Nope.” They turned off the stairs onto the first floor, and trotted the few meters towards the entrance to the lecture hall. He opened the door and held it for Meredith—
Nearly the whole class was here. He checked the time: they were four minutes early. “This isn’t a good sign,” he muttered as they headed for their seats.
Some of the students in the front of the room were having a conversation with Professor Koltzer. Meredith couldn’t hear what was being said, but the general tone—and the restlessness of the room—let her to believe all was not well. “I think you’re right,” she whispered as they sat.
Albert powered up his systems. “I hate it when that happened.”
Professor Koltzer stepped up to the podium; the moment she did, her holographic image appeared before each student. “We may as well begin today’s session with an update of the upcoming observing session—”
“Here it comes,” Albert whispered.
“As the weather is questionable at all the ground-based sites, the observatories will keep us updated on a fifteen minute schedule. It is very likely that two of the observatories will be unable to collect data until tomorrow evening. If this is the case—”
“Damn, what a smash,” someone in the class blurted out.
“If that is the case—” Winfrieda’s tone changed, to let people know that she wasn’t interested in any more interruptions, “public access to their data will be limited in time shared allotments.”
“I thought—” The student held up his hand when Winfrieda’s stare slammed him hard. After she acknowledged him, he continued. “I though they could handle thousands of access channels. Why limit us?”
Winfrieda raised the same question this morning when she was told of the current situation. She felt it was important that she not relay to her students her exact words to one of the directors . . . “The original plan was to have two ground observatories collecting, and this would be supplemented by the orbital observations. With maybe only one ground station capable of active observation, they’ll rely on the orbital telescopes more.” She sighed. She knew it wasn’t a perfect answer—or even a good one—but it was the only one she had, or was about to give.
A girl in the third row yelled, “But that’s not fair!” then slapped her knee in frustration.
“There are a lot of things that aren’t fair,” Winfrieda said. “This is one of those things. We’ve argued this point for years—”
Meredith was trying to follow the conversation, but she was suddenly finding something else far more interesting: Albert looked as if he were doing something. In his head.
She knew what was happening; he was accessing his computer, at it was likely he was searching for something. Meredith turned just enough that she could see his eyes; they were slightly unfocused, darting back and forth, seeing something visible only to him. He’s doing more than searching for something, she thought. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he’s chatting with someone . . .
His eyes stopped moving, then focused upon Meredith. A smile crawled slowly across his face as he leaned towards Meredith. “You wanna see this thing?” he said softly.
She didn’t need to consider the question. “Yes.”
Meredith didn’t know what Albert meant by wanting to see the event. She wondered if he knew someone who could get them additional time on a data circuit, or perhaps even into an observatory. She’d come to understand that, with Albert, anything might be possible.
What she didn’t expect him to do, however . . . it was something she’d never seen him do since they’d started class.
He raised his hand. “Professor?”
Winfrieda turned towards the direction of the question and saw Albert with his hand raised. She knew that, up to now, he’d sat quietly and only joined in on the discussion if absolutely necessary. Obviously he wants something now, she thought. “Yes, Mr. Dahl?”
There was a slight hesitation as he lowered his arm, as if he wasn’t certain if he should speak. That didn’t last long, however. “Can you get access to ten fifty centimeter telescopes?” He looked about the lecture hall before saying, “I’d need two visual spectrum, two IR, two ultraviolet, and two X-Ray.” He shrugged. “And maybe get a hold of a gamma ray burst detector as well.” Albert cleared his throat. “Professor.”
Winfrieda wanted to shake her head and say, “What?”, but she resisted the urge—though only with great difficulty. “And what exactly would you do with said equipment?”
“Get everyone in this room as stable platform for viewing CQ Draconis.” Albert was staring straight at Professor Koltzer now. “If that’s what everyone wants.”
“I’m certain that’s what everyone in this hall wants,” Winfrieda said. “What I would like to why you believe you can offer them this chance, now, when you never mentioned it before.”
Albert never broke eye contact with Professor Koltzer. “Because it was never needed before now.”
There were murmurings around the lecture hall, and Winfrieda knew students were discussing this matter between them. She didn’t feel that Albert had disrupted the lecture, because she hadn’t begun. If anything, having him interject into the arguments over the lack of observatory time was a nice diversion, but Winfrieda was worried that the mood in the hall was going to swing towards another direction—one that she worried she wouldn’t be able to control. “That’s all well and good, Mr. Dahl—”
A student, a boy in the third row, shot a quick question in Albert’s direction. “Where are you going to put these telescopes?”
Again, there was no hesitation in Albert’s reply. “In a polar orbit, three hundred thousand kilometers high.”
The murmurings really began in earnest now. Another student, this time a girl further back in the hall, exclaimed, “Are you frizzing kidding?”
“Nope.” Albert’s tone told everyone that, if nothing else, he knew he was telling the truth.
A few students weren’t so sure, however. “There’s no way you could do that,” one boy said while looking at Professor Koltzer. “No way in hell.”
Albert turned his stare upon the disbelieving student for a moment, then stood up. Not taking his the boy, he said, “If that’s the case, then I won’t be around much longer, will I?” He addressed Professor Koltzer. “Isn’t that right, Professor? By saying this, by telling everyone here that I can do this, I’ve pretty much violated the Cannon of Ethics as laid out in the Student Handbook.” He soften his posturing, shifting his weight to one leg. “Yeah?”
Winifreda nodded. “That’s quite true, Mr. Dahl.”
“Then why would I say this if it weren’t true?” He looked down at Meredith, who was smiling back, and then turned back to the professor. “I mean, if I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t; I just leave. But that’s not the case. So . . .” He crossed his hands in front of his stomach. “Can you help me out? Can you get me those scopes?”
Though she was tempted to question him further, Winfrieda suddenly hear the Duchess Warington’s voice in her head. He’s going to surprise you, I promise, she said only a few weeks prior, and though he hadn’t so far, she was beginning to understand that, perhaps, Albert didn’t feel the need to “surprise” people, unless it was very, very necessary. He’s right as well, she thought. With the claims he’s just made, a student review board could censure him to the point he’d be forced to withdraw from the class. Yet, he’s still making them, and being defiant all the while.
She slowly nodded, but before Winfrieda spoke, the girl who’d exclaimed what had happened wasn’t fair, turned to Albert. “How many information channels can you set up?”
The far-way look in Albert’s eyes lasted only a section. “Right now, I’m gonna say . . . about thirty-three hundred.”
The hall fell silent as they took in this new information. “I’m in,” the girl said. She turned to Professor Koltzer. “I want to gather information on x-rays, and if you can get him those X-Ray telescopes . . .” She turned back to Albert. “I’d love so get as much information on CQ as I can.”
Albert pointed a finger at her for just as second. “You got it,” he said, smiling softly.
For Winfrieda, there was no questions remaining about what she needed to do. “Very well, Mr. Dahl. I’ll get those telescopes for you.”
“Can you have them in the next two, three hours?”
“I can have them in two hours.” She began placing the order. “Where do you want them delivered?”
“Bay 17-B, Penningham Space Port.” Albert didn’t make a move to sit. “Oh, a couple of other things—”
“What would those be, Mr. Dahl?” Winfrieda wouldn’t normally allow students to make demands of her, but then she’d never had a student offer to make her life—and the lives of everyone else in her class—very easy.
“I need an access list of everyone who needs access to my system.”
“The one that will be monitoring the scopes.” He slowly ran his left hand through his dark hair. “I’ll need an access list so I know where to send the data streams.”
“I don’t see a problem with that,” Winfrieda said. “Would you like that list sent to your student account?”
“You said you have a ‘couple of things’?”
Since he was on a roll, Albert didn’t see any reason to hold off asking. “I need to be excused from class so I can get this set up.” He nodded down at Meredith. “And I need Meredith to come with me.”
Though she found the last request a bit unusual, Winfrieda wanted to know the whys of having Meredith along for—if she was hearing Albert correctly—a ride into space, before giving approval. “And this is because . . ?”
“She’s my study partner. This is out project, too.” He came across as completely sincere as Albert said, “We were going to work on this tonight, together: we still can.”
Winfrieda didn’t need to spend any measurable time considering the request. “You’re both excused.”
“Thank you.” Albert nudged Meredith and whispered, “Come on.”
As they were leaving the hall, Winfrieda has only last question. “When can we expect to start receiving data?”
“If my updates are correct, I should be in place in six to eight hours.”
“And how long will you broadcast?”
He had one hand on the door as Albert turned and gave Professor Koltzer his best coy smile. “At least through Friday. And maybe a little after that.” With that, they pushed through the door and into the hallway beyond.
Making for the stairs at a fast walk, Albert said, “We have plenty of time to get to Penningham, but I want to take the transoms.”
“We’re really going to the spaceport?” Meredith wasn’t having problems keeping up with Albert; if anything, she felt like running to the transom station.
“Sure are.” They bounded down the stairs, almost taking them two at a time. “Maggie’s putting Liberator through preflight checks now. We should be ready to lift off in under thirty minutes. All we have to do is wait for the scopes.” They reached the main entrance and head back into the rain. “I sure hope Winnie gets us a burst detector.”
Meredith touched Albert’s arm and brought him to a quick stop. “Wait, wait . . . Maggie? Liberator?” She let out with a short, mirthful laugh. “Albert, really: what’s going to happen?”
Albert reached up and took Meredith’s hand, then gave it a gentle squeeze. “We’re going where I said we’re going.” He leaned in closer to her, never releasing her hand. In his best pickup line-suave voice, he asked, “Hey, you wanna see my spaceship?”
Did you like it? Hate it? Did it make you look for sharp objects? Do you want Maggie's number? Leave a comment and Tell Me!