|The Dream Lives On
© ShadowWolf -- all rights reserved
I looked out my skylight and watched as another satelite fell from the sky in a vortex of fire. My heart fell with it, burning with a passion for a dream that had died in the fires of the collapse. When I was young I'd dreamed of going to the moon and beyond, riding to distant planets on the Enterprise, or flying past blockades on the Millennium Falcon... Of exploring the universe on the Cortez, seeing the arch of the world from the Lying Bastard. Space was where I dreamed of being, traveling on any of the many ships that plied the perilous vacuum between the stars in the fiction of the times. My generation aspired to do the things that the previous generations had done and more. The Beagle, that lonely, unmanned ship sent to Mars was one of ours, propelled aloft by our dreams and ambitions.
I turned and looked around the inside of my house.
A simple place I'd built, choosing as its setting the foundations of the old block house that had once served as the only above ground buildings for a missile silo. The cold loneliness of it no longer bothered me - it was a price I gladly paid for pursuing my dreams. For many years I'd hoped the world would recover from the collapse wrought by the mistakes made with the Beagle, watching and waiting for a return to the dream. Nearly twenty years after the collapse and nothing was heading that way - the world was mired in its problems and showing no sign of science advancing to propel us out to the stars.
Sure, NASA still flew the aging 'new' shuttle fleet and Ad Astra had an honest-to-god spaceplane, but for the rest of the world the dream was dead. I sat down at my computer, the only truly modern item in the house, and went back to the designs. The craft on the screen was like nothing the earth had ever seen - it was sleek, designed to traverse the atmosphere and beyond using science that I alone understood. You see, I'm not quite human - the name I go by these days is Prometheus. Why the strange name? Well look at me - I'm a SCAB, but it seems the virus went insane with me.
Yep, that patchwork of color and fur you see isn't an affectation - it's a fact. Before the virus killed me - yeah, I'm no longer alive in the normal sense of the word - it got lost and gave me a body with bits and pieces from every hominid that had ever lived. The design on the screen is my gift to mankind - an honest to god interstellar exploration craft. Don't ask me how I know the engines will work - call it my special gift. I understand the universe at such a level that I can spend hours reeling off the equations that describe just how a three-brane is twisted by a Calabi-Yau space into a graviton, or how a one-brane is wrapped around the same Calabi-Yau space to produce a proton.
Don't worry if I lost you there. When the transformation was over, and my brain was turned into the computational machine it now is, I was confused too. The understanding isn't some magical insight - it's how my mind works now. Since the day I awoke from death to find myself still alive, my mind has traveled strange paths, my thoughts coming in pure, elegant, math, and my world filled with wonderful equations describing the most minute details. Making the last modification to the aerodynamic control of the craft spinning before me in a simulated 3 dimensions, my brain started running the complex math that described the fluid dynamics and would govern the craft in both atmospheric and trans-light flight.
The problem was building the beast. No one company or country should hold title to the tech, but the problem was that only one entity had anything close to the resources to build my bird. Sure, I had built one myself, a small version designed just for me, but the dream was dead - who could I give this gift, this dream, that would be able to use it once I left Earth to see what wonders existed in the universe.
An icon flashed over my work and pulled my mind out of the complex calculations. Someone was looking to hire me. For what? I'm glad you asked. My name isn't widely known outside certain circles, but I'd made a name for myself as a freelance 'data retrieval' specialist. Most of it involved just getting copies of electronic data, but I could be coaxed from my nest to perform some physical data retrieval. Most clients are governments, but some companies have learned how to contact me and asked for my special skills.
The icon flashed again and I finally clicked on it. The application opened three seconds later, but in that time I had finished running the fluid dynamics simulation, and knew that my ship would be the first to be able to sustain more than 5 G's of continuous acceleration, even in an atmosphere. Now all I had to do was get my hands on the carbon fiber that would wrap the body, and commission a company to produce the iridium that I would mist onto it a micron thick.
Checking what came up, I saw that it was a request from NASA. They didn't seem to be able to find anyone capable of getting information from Ad Astras systems, and were asking me to get it for them. This time the amount offered was staggering - the sum more than five times the previous offer. Again I politely turned them down - Ad Astra had Sue Carter, and while her abilities may not match mine, they were formidable enough that I didn't want to test my luck.
The next day I was furious. During the night NASA had launched a campaign to 'Wipe Out Electronic Crime' and had plastered my picture across the headlines. "Worlds Top Hacker Nevinyrral Wanted In Connection With Pentagon Data Theft". Yeah, that's right - me. Pronounced like it's spelled. If you don't get it, don't worry - none of you ephemerals do. The rage left as soon as it had come - nobody could connect that name to me.
I ordered the last of the supplies to finish my prototype - the Kzin - and turned on the music system of my nest. As the opening notes of a version of Heinlein's 'The Green Hills of Earth' played, I looked out the window over the plain. Soon I would give my gift to mankind, do my part to rekindle the dream, and then I would leave this planter and never again see the hills that had stood silent sentinel over my endeavors for the last decade. Sitting down, I started on my response to NASA'S recent attack on me.
Six hours later I pulled myself out of the deep concentration I'd been in and tapped the enter key. By the next morning, every secret NASA had would be available to everyone with access to the internet. And nobody would be able to stop it, because I'd built the data into a self-propagating network. Sure, it was a low blow, but they'd struck first - and these days the only way to keep data online that the government doesn't like is to do it the way I did.
Having had my work interrupted the past two days, I finally decided to forgo my normal hour of lucid sleep and made my way through the hatches and into the machine room I'd made of the missile launch command center. Today , I was finishing the two control sticks that I'd decided would be the primary controls for the ship. It didn't need two control sticks for each pilot, but my designs had called for it so that the ship could be more easily controlled - the pedals themselves actually controlled the throttles.
A week from the day I finished installing the control systems I would launch the ship. Two weeks later a worm would migrate off the computers in my home and onto the internet. The mathematical formulae and the complex engine designs would take years for even the most brilliant to find a way to improve on them, but I was more than certain that NASA and Ad Astra would immediately try to make use of the information.
That I wasn't just giving the information to a single group was a nod to Gene Roddenberry, who had Cochrane give the warp engine to the world. I was doing the same - Heinlein had predicted it a long time ago, and it had happened. The world had collapsed and was falling still further towards some Malthusian final solution. My engines, capable of propelling a ship to astronomical multiples of the speed of light were the only viable solution. Mankind, norm and SCAB alike, had to colonize. Not just the planets of our solar system, where they would have to fight for survival, but all the habitable extra-solar planets they could.
Not only would that save mankind, it would allow us to survive anything short of the final death of the universe. And I was going to make damned sure that SCABS were out there. They call it a disease, something to be cured. I say it's a gift, our next step on the evolutionary ladder. That's what happened to Mars... Its people evolved and evolved until they left their planet when it started to die. In my own, personal, opinion, I felt that we were descended from the people that had left the red planet. Why else would the Martian Flu virus have any effect on us?
It took six days for me to track down a company capable of coating a reinforced carbon composite with a micron-thick layer of Iridium. The reflective qualities of Iridium help with deflecting the radiation encountered when twisting space in the manner my engine was going to. I authorized the payment from one of my many accounts and sent a request for a cross check on the field data to Sue Carter in the name of one of the many scientists who let me use them for that kind of contact.
Why Sue Carter? Because I respect her, and know that the care she puts into checking out hypotheticals like this one would either validate the theory I had for attitude control in trans-light space, or would send me back to the design board to do some more number crunching. The problem would get answered within a week - it had to be as she was scheduled for a space flight very soon.
With that taken care of, I went back to the silo and installed the controls and seat in the middle of the holographic systems that would provide the data needed to pilot the craft. No windows - they were too vulnerable, and my idea for a transparent aluminum composite just didn't work. I wasn't bothered too much by that - it just meant that the composite required a molecular construction technique that hadn't been developed yet.
I was pulled out of my reverie - I always lost myself in the work - almost a week later when the system beeped to tell me a response had come through from one of the scientists that let me use them as secure outside contacts. The beeping was annoying and unceasing as I walked out of the silo, and up the three flights of stairs to the nearest terminal.
It wasn't what I was looking for, but the result was workable. I rushed upstairs and started making the changes to the control mechanisms the equations said were needed. In a very short time, I had the changes committed to the design plans in the computer, and I was back down in the silo making the adjustments on the prototype I'd take on a flight to the stars. Several days passed as I made minute, micron or smaller, adjustments to various probes and nodes in the space flight control system. The care was well deserved - if anyone was to survive a flight in a ship powered and flown like this one, then the systems needed to shield the habitat sections of the ship from the harsh environment of the sub-quantum flux it was going to use for propulsion.
When I was done I went back up to my nest, and the ultra-modern computer installed there. Several messages were waiting in the 'work' queue, so I opened them up and decided to see if they'd provide the challenge I craved. One was an on-site data retrieval job for the company that would be doing the iridium plating for me. I took a look at the specs and opened a com line - I'd charge them the iridium plating for this job.
Three days to the job site and three days of surveilance. Now I was ready to get the data they wanted. I could make it in easily - all I needed to do was jump the ten foot fence. When I was still alive that would have been a problem - now all I needed was a bit of a run-up, and I could hurdle anything up to fifteen feet.
But once inside, I'd have to duck around the patrols until I reached the hiding place where I could tap their networks and take control of the surveilance systems. That was going to present quite a problem, since the best way to do it would be using the roofs, and the roofs were too high for me to make a jump onto. So I had to work out a map of the grounds, and make my way to the place where the nearest unguarded network box was on the ground and vulnerable to being caught.
If I was still alive, the thrill of the danger might make the job worthwhile, but if I get shot, I stay shot. No healing at all for this patchwork body of mine. But I had to do this - it meant a $2mil iridium coating for my spacecraft. When the guard went past, I was up and over the fence, my landing on the other side almost as quiet as a cat.
After that it was a series of quick runs and long stays in deep shadows to make it to the network junction box I'd use to take control of the surveilance systems. The system itself was so simple to take over I would have laughed if I hadn't been the one to design it in the first place. With the system set to clip me out of all the visuals, I slipped into the secure building with the pass-key I make for every job. They do come in handy.
And in the morning when they checked the logs, it would report that one 'Maintenance Technician Jordan Kare' had entered the building. Of course, that employee was a fiction buried in the BIOS code of the system, but I needed something for the logs. They'd check and recheck the log systems, and maybe even check for masking in the video systems, but my backdoor was built into the hardware. Of course, if they called me in to troubleshoot the problem, I'd expose a backdoor Ill create a bit later.
Oops, almost walked right into a patrol there. Time to double back and take the other route into the labs. For some reason, a company that specialized in high-tech coated materials wanted the sealed research info from a semiconductor company. But the reasons behind the job didn't concern me - it was just a job, and a way to get one step closer to my goal. Another sealed door, and another false name entered into the logs. I just hope none of the tech security folks they've picked up since I built this system are classic sci-fi fans... the name that was entered this time was 'Pohl, Frederick - Research Division'.
Ducked behind a trash bin in the darkest shadows available (thanks to a carefully busted light), I watched two guards pass. From there it's just a simple couple of steps into the office of the head of R&D. His blinds are closed, and he leaves his screen on a very hackish screen-saver, so I should be able to use his system to find the file numbers of the research data I was to retrieve. The only hard part would be bypassing the black ice I'd built into their research net - the only way for that to be truly effective, was for me to leave out a backdoor.
Cyberspace vistas spread out before me as the goggles hummed to life. Only a minute had gone by one the clock, when I accessed the first layer of the research net, and my own black ice activated and began an attack run. The system rendered the first ones as spiders, so I grabbed a smasher program and dropped it on the bugs. The next wave were fliers, but they can't spot stuff that dives beneath a certain level of the system, so down I went.
This went on for twenty minutes. The security I'd designed and built attacked, and I slipped through it's blind spots of disabled it. With a shake of the head, I pulled out the files asked for, and backed out of the system. I might have finished the retrieval operation, but even that wasn't enough - I still had to get out of the complex. Rather than retracing my steps, I moved in a jagged path towards the other side of the complex. I'd stashed a bike there that'd take me to my ride.
The exfil went smoothly, and I made it out without even coming close to being spotted. The name at the last door where I used my pass-key - 'Paul Atreides - Maintenance Technician, second class' - another homage to my childhood - and I rode the motorcycle around the perimeter, then loaded it into the back of my van. Two hours later I was far enough away from the job that I relaxed and hit the switch to swap the license plates back to the normal ones. It'd be a long drive to where I was supposed to drop the data off, so I cranked up the music, and was hit with a fond memory of my childhood as the fast guitars of early Metallica roared from the speakers.
I guess that dates me even more than me claiming to be from the generation that built the Beagle, and brought SCABS to the world. When the millennium turned I was in my twenties, so I guess this coming year would put me somewhere around sixty. That also gives people the origin of my skills - I was already damned good at getting data people didn't want me to have from the original internet, so when the new version came out, I was one of the first to start exploiting it's power and potential. As to the physical data retrieval - that came later, after SCABS had left me in a state of living death.
"Big Fucking Deal!" I can hear people screaming already, and this journal has yet to be published... Won't be published until after I fire up the gravity drive on the Kzin and shove off from this world slowly dying in it's own misery. So you've most likely grown up in a society where the dead don't always stay dead - I didn't. When I laid down that night long ago, and felt my body dying, I was ready for it. The pain from what the virus did to my body made my life a living hell, and then there was the chemotherapy... Oh yes, it was that early that SCABS wasn't even recognized by all professionals, and my doctors tried treating it like cancer.
Whether or not SCABS was going to kill me anyway is besides the point. I was twenty-seven years old and engaged to be married. Then comes the new plague and what happens to me? I die in the second wave of deaths, then stand up the next morning, the world a sea of numbers and my thoughts flowing through loops and whorls of data. For six months I was a near vegetable, unable to comprehend my senses or communicate with the world. At one point they tried to declare me dead in entirety so they could dissect me. I know this because I was on the table with the doctors hovering around, when everything snapped into focus, and I finally figured out how to interpret what my changed senses were telling me.
With a steady hand, I slid the carbon composite panels into the curing oven, and set the timer. Tomorrow, I had to deliver the panels to the company for coating. In a week they'd be back, and the Kzin would be one step closer to flying. "Prometheus they say, brought god's fire down to man..." Strains of classic Filk played through the silos speakers, as I turned my full attention to the device that would power my ship on it's trip across the cosmos. One side of my mind split off and sang along, while the rest was focused on tuning the magnetic coils that would contain the fusion reaction and help me tap the raw energy of it.
It had to be perfect - if the field was weak by as much as a ten-thousandth of an electron volt, the containment would slowly fail. On the other end of the spectrum was the field's polarity and alignment - both had to be matched, the 'north' poles of the magnet centered in the bottle and locked in place. To handle this, I'd purchased a new computer, and written the entire operating system and drive software - it was now running on a 'tell-me-six-times' loop against the main computer. Both were equally capable of handling the job of maintaining the fusion bottle, but since I'd already run the main computer against all possible failure modes, and a number of impossible ones, I wanted the neural net that it ran to check out the new one running on the computer that would be in control of the system in flight.
As the computers chatted, I watched the numbers flowing back and forth. They'd just started the seventh test of the proper reactions to an inversion of the fields polarity, when the beeping of the alarm on the carbon fiber curing oven finally penetrated my focus. Three minutes later I'd made it up the two levels to where I setup the huge curing oven and was spinning the wheel to release the door. The automatic openers hissed, and the steel door of the oven slowly swung open, revealing the shiny black of freshly cured carbon fiber. I waited patiently for the panels to cool because I'd forgotten to grab my heat gloves, and I did still feel pain in an odd manner.
"Dammit." I muttered, as a different beeping reached me a level below where the source was. The beeping was one I hadn't heard in a long time - the sound of my homes doorbell. That was enough to make me almost fly up the ladder that was the fastest route to my living room. I was still halfway across the room when whoever had rung the bell started pounding. My hand had just undone the deadbolt when the pounding resumed, this time accompanied by a voice.
"Open up, this is the FBI!"
Time seemed to slow as I undid the last of the chains and opened the door. Outside was a full FBI entry and arrest team, guns at the ready. Rather than frown at the fact that I might have lost my chance to bring the dream back to mankind, I smiled. "What can I do for you Agent?"
"Step outside, and raise your hands. We have reason to believe you are Nevinyrral."
So I raised my hands and stepped outside, a bit bewildered. I was certain there was no way to link me to that name - but they'd showed up and were ready to arrest me. "You're making a mistake, Agent. I'm Doctor Nakamura, one time Computer Sciences professor at the local Community College. For the last five years I've been part of the hunt for Nevinyrral."
It was all true. I'd learned a long time before, that the best way to hide anything was in plain sight. And there was no better place to hid an infamous figure than as one of his most vocal hunters. Whoever had given them my name as a good target for arrest, either had managed to break the encryption surrounding all the code I'd attached that name to, or was trying to get me out of the way for some reason. Only two names came to mind as being able to crack the encryption - one because she had a mind like mine, and the other because it seems he lives faster than the rest of the world.
"And Agent, if any of my property is damaged, you will pay for its repair or replacement. Also, my good man, this is a warning - I will be filing suit against the FBI for this." Fuel for the fire. They'd search the place top to bottom and find nothing. The computers would probably be searched on sight - the ones I have in my place are all specially designed and programmed, removing them will damage the data. The look on my captors face was enough - he didn't think I was Nevinyrral, and my little threat had him worried. His whole demeanor changed and I knew immediately that he wasn't behind this event.
My house was a mess - they'd flipped the place like a burglar looking for loot. Of course, I knew what they were trying to find - evidence to tie me to Nevinyrral. Fat chance of that... What kind of low-brow idiot do they take me for? After inspecting all the lines and equipment for bugs, I went to work - NASA had set me up, and published 'verified reports' on things they were accusing me of. My first punitive strike had just caused them to bring in the FBI.
Off come the kid gloves - they want to play rough, I'll play rough. Just need to verify my connections for stability and lack of taps. About halfway through the process - one designed by me to detect the normally unnoticeable echoes of a tap on the line - my doorbell rings again. Having been in the living room at the time ,cleaning up while the second set of tests ran, I'd heard the truck pull up. I had the door open and was waiting for the driver.
The truck itself was an indeterminate brown with faded yellow markings - UPS had fallen on bad times during the collapse, with their drivers being blamed for speeding the spread of the Martian Flu. The result was the condition the company now found itself in, struggling for contracts. When he verified his identity, and opened the back of the truck, I showed him to the large garage, and got him a cup of coffee as I finished packaging the carbon-fiber body panels and hauling them up out of one of my workshops.
Two hours later, the panels were off on their way to the company that will be doing the coating, and I was checking the results of the automated scan for bugs. When I finished running the numbers myself, I started building another shadow net, this one showing the contracts NASA had offered Nevinyrral for work, and showing how NASA had started the witch-hunt in response to being turned down. I doubt the FBI will like having been pulled into a witch-hunt, since NASA had claimed the data theft was linked to Nevinyrral, while I had left footprints showing it linked to a totally different name - 'Slipstick Libby'.
With the shadow net completed, I set the system to trigger it and send out link information to the big nine news networks, and a number of the smaller outlets as well. NASA had to learn its lesson - play with fire, and you will get burned. The ladder to the second level workshops was sliding by under me, when the main computer and the engine and power control computers both beeped to indicate a successful run of the testing protocol. That meant I could start installing the computers and hooking up the power systems.
The installation did not go smoothly - the fusion bottle did not want to sit on the frame mounts flatly, as if the toroid had twisted at some point. After two days of effort I managed to get the spare mounted. The work was hard, after having the spare manufactured, I'd changed the mounting location and the brackets. But I tested the integrity, and hooked it up to the computer to test the containment field. After all, I was going to be trusting my life to it, and I wasn't going to launch with a dodgy power supply.
When the computer bleeped that the coils checked out, I installed it in it's permanent home, and told it to power down. The main computer went in even easier, having been designed to specifically fit inside the somewhat spacious cockpit. After that things went smoothly, with the waste reclamation system, the small hydroponics system, and all the other systems needed to make the ship totally habitable. With most of the work done I finally stopped - I had worked nonstop for nearly two weeks, and even though I didn't need it, long habit called me to try and sleep.
The lucid sleep that I had long endured came almost immediately, as did the view of the world I had lost. Dreams taunted me with memories of the humanity and simple view of the world that SCABS had taken from me. I relished the simple view of a rose, unencumbered with the knowledge of its spectral frequencies and concentrations of the various scent chemicals in the air, felt a warm summer breeze blowing over my shaved head without the innate knowledge of its speed. These things rejuvenated me during the night, as much as they depressed me while I was awake.
Upon my return to the land of the living several hours later, I pushed the depression aside with a practiced ease. I had to finish the final programming of the navigational computer, and calibrate the various sensors that would help keep me safe from the dangers of faster than light travel. At the speeds the ship would be traveling, a single atom hitting the hull would do as much damage as a car hitting a brick wall - so I had calibrated the sensors to be three times as acute as my own senses. While I would still be vulnerable to those magic one or two atoms, the shileds would protect me from the much more prevalent globs of them.
The shields had their own special magnetic bottle, designed to work like the Earths magentosphere in some ways ,and a containerless magnetic bottle, inside of which a high energy plasma would travel. And while I longed for the transporters made famous in science fiction shows produced before my birth, not even my unique abilities gave me a way in which to conquer Heisenberg. I had explored many avenues, including the possibility of doing it all with an Einstein-Rosen-Podolski bridge, but everything worked out to contain infinities. The only real chance for a teleporter is a fax-machine like device that needs a node on both ends synchronized at a sub-atomic level, such that Heisenberg can be held off through use of a simple Einstein-Rosen particle pair.
Two days later the panels were due in, so I spent that day constructing what I hoped to be the last shadow-net of my life. It was to be complex beyond all chance of shutting down - self-replicating and self-healing, so that the data would forever remain available. I used every trick I'd ever been taught and many more that I had created to make it unkillable - the only way to stop it would be to shut down all the worlds networks at the same time. The basic structure was fixed in only three hours, although it took me another ten hours to setup the rest of the structural members that would serve as the initial nodes of the shadow-net.
Dawn was lighting the eastern sky when the truck pulled up carrying the Iridium plated carbon fiber panels that would make up the hull of my ship. I helped the driver unload them, then paid him to help me move them into the workshop I'd created them in. My hands were already in motion gathering up the fasteners that would join the panels to the frame, when the truck roared to life and pulled away. With time on my side, I carefully mounted each panel - taking extra care that the fasteners did not mar the rainbow-like sheen of the iridium, and indeed, did not cause any damage to the very expensive panels themselves.
Three days it took me to mount the doubled panels for the habitation areas, including the hydroponics bays which would provide the ship with most of its oxygen, and the food storage lockers I'd converted to storage lockers for extra spare parts, and some precious minerals for later trade. The only thing that worried me at that point was the potential ineffectiveness of the ships defensive armaments - there is no way of knowing if mass drivers and high-energy free-electron lasers will have any effect on the potentially hostile aliens I hoped to meet.
Yes, I'd built some expensive weapons into my baby - but strictly for defensive purposes. Peace may be something I feel is a natural state, but if history has anything to teach us, it is that wars and hostility are inevitable, and will always exist. So, in order to defend myself and my ship, I added weaponry - two turrets, one top, one bottom, with two high-energy FEL's apiece, and two forward facing mass-drivers. In testing, the mass drivers had shown a capacity to fire a projectile so fast that only a too-fragile carbon composite didn't melt in flight. But the mass drivers weren't fixed to firing simple slugs - that was a mistake when you might be encountering aliens with tech equal to some of the stuff in my wildest fantasies. So I had designed and built, in secret, matter-annhilitation bombs that could be launched by the mass drivers.
As the fourth day of work begins, I find myself looking forward to seeing my baby finished. The Kzin will be an impressive looking bird, from the forward and down-swept wings, to the Iridium plated skin that flashed like a diamond reflecting myriad colors. The main thruster fairings fit neatly to the edge of the Aerospike engine that I'll use for non-gravitational maneuvering. So far, I've only had to fill hairline seams between the panels with the ceramic mud that's also been laced with iridium, but I'm worried that the last few panels might not fit. The lower fairing for the aerospike engine seems a bit too rounded, and a large, patched seam at the joint between the fuel flow surface and the hull, could create a chance for the engines ignited fuel to get back-pressure and blow inside the ship.
Ten hours until the fuel and LOx are loaded for the sub-light maneuvering engines, and my 'contract proposed' ring is going off. I flip the switch to set the system to automatically cut off, and scurry up the ladder to my living room. With a sigh, I sit down at my terminal, and pull up the proposal, only to see that it's from the CIA. I shuffle the checklist for the launch to the back of my mind and re-read the proposal.
A right-wing neo-luddite terrorist group has attacked Ad Astra, and has sent demands to the CIA claiming they will start attacking America and American interests, unless their demand for all non-scabs to leave Hawai'i, and the state be ceded to create a SCABS only nation. My finger hovers over the delete button while I finish reading it, wondering the whole time what the CIA thinks I can do about it. As I read the last line, I am forced to laugh - the CIA thinks Nevinyrral can make the universe bend to his will. They want me to get them full tracking and membership information for the terrorist group.
Thankfully, I'd long ago gotten over the habit of deleting mail immediately - doubly so for potential contracts - everything waited in the 'trash' bin for at least a week. I'd tapped the delete button, sending the CIA contract proposal into the 'contract trash' bin, when it hit me that there had been something attached to the message. I hit the 'undo' button, and the message popped back up, only to be forwarded to a sandboxed playground that would trap and analyze everything the package did. The attachment was a compressed document, and set of photos, the entire thing labeled 'Classified, Code Word Access Only' and 'Nevinyrral, Hacker'.
I groaned at the poor word choice, but was intrigued, so I scrolled down, reading the text slowly, letting it sink in. There was enough data in the document to put me in prison for the next thousand years, if I served the potential sentences consecutively. The implication was clear - either I agree to do the job for the CIA, and then do it, or I would wind up in jail. Knowing the CIA - I've done some work for them over the years - they probably had a team waiting to storm the house the second a 'No' response got to them.
So I picked up the phone, switched on the voice-masking device I use for these kinds of phone calls, and agreed to take the contract. My taps into the CIA's network showed that all data on the so-called 'Nevinyrral Project' was being securely deleted by the time I hung up the phone and dove back into the Virtual Reality of the world-wide networks. Ten hours later, I'd found all kinds of information buried in the darker parts of the net where even experts fear to tread, and an 'urgent' icon was flashing in the tool-tray.
The alert was from the fueling systems - the Kzin's chemical maneuvering rockets were fully fueled and ready to go. But I had yet to finish the data and deliver it to the CIA, so I dove back in, and found the last few pieces on one of the NSA's more public servers. Afterwards, I compiled the data into a document, adding what pictures I had of the various people, and pulled myself out of the data long enough to order the systems to start the automated part of the pre-launch checklist.
Fifteen seconds later, the information was on its way to the agency, and I was examing the Kzin from top to bottom. Tomorrow the shadow-net, with the plans and documentation for the Kzin and the various engine systems would go online, and the house would lockdown and wait for one person to unlock it - Sue Carter. That's what took me fifteen seconds - I had composed and triple encrypted a mail to her explaining everything, and giving her title to the property and all the research materials it contained.
For the first time in more than two decades, I was truly happy. With a grin on my face, I stepped into the open hatchway of my ship and hit the button to seal the airlock. The atmospheric pumps cycled, and the interior door opened into the main living space. "Computer, switch to internal power and open the silo doors." My voice was rough, like fingernails across a chalkboard, from hours of not having any liquid to keep them pliable. But, despite that, the computer understood what I'd said, and the Kzin began to gently hum as the fusion bottle came online.
Three strides took me into the cockpit, where I strapped myself into the pilots chair and began the pre-flight , before the bottle was even into self-sustaining mode. As the screens of the cockpit came online, I felt the distant thuds that told me the ship was being moved into launch position. The world outside the thick poly-acrylic windows slowly moved, seeming to sink down as a series of Hydraulic rams and linear electric motors positioned the Kzin vertically in the silo.
Then an indicator flashed from red to green, and the humming died down. A new series of thuds slightly shook the ship as the umbilicals disconnected. Behind me, in the Hydroponics bay, the entire room spun to keep the water in the tanks just before a series of splash covers also slid into place. Fully five minutes after climbing into the Kzin, I flipped on the radio system and transmitted the same message on all the bands.
"Call me Prometheus, good people of Earth. In exactly twenty-four hours, information I've developed will flood onto the networks. Among this information is a set of plans, and a gaurantee. The stars are no longered denied mankind - I'm now transmiting from the cockpit of my prototype, the Kzin, and as soon as this transmission is finished, I'm going to launch. The Earth will never see me again, but know this - I will be out there, waiting for the adventurers to join me in conquering this bold, new world."
The button that had activated the radio went dim as my finger hit it again. My message was sent, and my promise made. Now it was time to leave the world, riding into the sky on a pillar of fire. With both hands on the control sticks, I pushed the buttons to activate the main jets, and pushed the throttles against their stops. Thirty feet underneath me pumps kicked in and began supplying fuel to a hungry chemical rocket. The Kzin bucked as her jets roared to life, then lifted into the air as I pressed on the pedals and brought the gravity drive online.
After two minutes of continual burn I shut the engines off. I had a limited supply of fuel for them, but I couldn't help but have them roaring as I left the Earth behind. Long ago I'd watched rockets launch, then shuttles, and in tribute to all the men and women who had died to get man into space, I rode into the sky as they had, sitting on top of a pillar of flame.
Once I reached the magic 60 mile limit my mind soared out into the stars as I angled out of the ecliptic of the solar system and pushed the buttons to set my course. I wouldn't travel that direction for long, but I had to give the earth something to see. After a few minutes of working with the computer about the distances and angles involved, the course was set. All I needed to do was push one button and I'd be on my way towards Proxima Centauri at over 5000 times the speed of light.
I turned the radio back on. "I hope you've got your eyes on me, because here I go. Farewell planet of my birth - I leave you to travel to the stars."
One more I turned the radio off, not wanting to hear anything they might have to say. I was done with the Earth - forever if I had my way about it. The button to activate the trans-light drive blinked green as the computer finished the hard part of fixing the course against known stars and other features. As I pressed the button I laughed, the stars outside the viewport flashed birght blue and then disappeared, as my ship went from orbital velocities to faster than light in an instant.
The trip lasted less than thirty seconds - just enough time for me to give the world a good show, and get clear of any tracking by the Earth. I turned the communications systems back on, wanting to hear if anyone on Earth was going to try and talk to me, and retired for the night, leaving the ship relatively stationary. It was like that for two days, as I tried to figure out why I felt so tired - so I went back to my equations and began a triple check. A few constants didn't seem to line up, but since I'd gone FTL, I reasoned it must be a deficiency in the constants themselves. The ones used for reference on Earth had to be wrong.
About a week later, I still had no idea where I wanted to go first, when what seemed like a burst of static came over the microwave communications band I'd sent notes to all the worlds space programs about. But the computer confirmed it had interior consistency, and seemed to be a communication. So I ran it through some filters and discovered it was a highly compacted mass of data, repeated again and again. Even with my unique mathematic abilities, it took me several days to decode it all. There were two files. One was a sound file, so I played it first.
"Because of you I'm stuck on Brin. But you have a unique oppurtunity to protect the Earth...." It was Sue Carter. Cutting the signal, I looked at the data that had accompanied it. Tracking and orbital simulation data for lots of somethings. It puzzled me, until my memory clicked into place. Viking, Voyager and every other probe that had left the solar system, were listed. Several were differently marked, but I understood immediately. She was asking me to do something I'd planned on doing anyway, and was treating me as if I'd never read "Battlefield Earth" or Leinsters excellent story "First Contact".
That settled my decision. Having this quality of data available - it was much better than what I'd gathered on my own - I could take out the probes now. One button depressed, and a keyboard slid from under the console. My fingers flew across the keys, programming the computer to lock in on what were noted as "Intercept Devices" so I could handle those first and give my defense systems a test. I tapped the button again, smiled as the keyboard disappeared without a sound, then tapped the program execute sequence into the navigational control panel. The Kzin instantly leaped into motion, executing the series of small hops needed intercept Carter's missiles. As each came in range, the targeting computers came to life, and the emitters on the turrets flashed. Everyone of those missiles disappeared into a ball of rapidly expanding gases. It was almost a disappointment. Years of science fiction during my youth had primed me for huge explosions, but there was only a minimum of flame from some of the materials decaying into oxygen under the heat of the lasers.
But, with the turrets automated systems proven functional, it was time to get serious work done and verify the alignment of the mass drivers. Over the years, the US and other nations, had launched a number of probes with easy to follow road-maps to Earth. It had been assumed that any advanced race would be peaceful, but L. Ron Hubbard, Murray Lienster, and others, had warned about the folly of that belief. I couldn't do anything about the radio signals, but I could deal with the probes. So, I once more activated the keyboard, and used the data Carter had provided to plot a series of jumps to take me to each of the probes. I'd use the mass driver on them - I'd stocked some extra matter-annihilation warheads just for this task.
That job took me a few hours. Between actually confirming the probes location with radar, and actually having fun running simulated firing passes, the time was gone before I knew it. But, at least now, I'd done what I could to ensure that the Earth would be safe - the only location for it out here was safely locked away in my head.
The nastiness over, I asked the computer to randomly choose a star as a destination. I was going to go back into the living area, and have some fun in zero g while I could. I'd dreamed of it for ages, and now I was there. Travelling through the infinite vacuum to other stars.
Despite what the world believes, the dream lives on.
Dr. Susan Carter slowly walked to her room, her cane clacking on the floor. Probably she should have used a wheelchair as she regained the strength she needed to walk on Earth, but she was too stubborn for that. She should have come back a month ago, but with that moron - literally, not negatively - blasting off into interstellar space, too many people would have shot at her first, and asked questions later. And NASA would be out of it for at least a decade - she'd already received private e-mails requesting employment at Ad Astra from 47 technicians and scientists fleeing the burning ship.
Closing the door behind her, she looked at the painting, at the monster burning it's way through. Once again the line whispered its way through her brain: 'It will remind us that we are, after all, not God.' Something she could never afford to forget. Slowly she clacked her way over to her computer, nodded at the plant's whispered greeting, and sat down with a relieved sigh. A push of a button and the screen came to life.
First, there was a confirmation that there was almost certainly no second hypermass orbiting within the earth. Sadly, that removed all possibilities of a near term development of a gravity lens launch system, but then it also meant that she didn't have to worry about some terrorist building graviton projectors to use the lens as a weapon. Probably none of them had ever read 'Earth' by David Brin, but it was better not to have to worry about it. She told the server to start the next mathematical mappings to ultimately compare to the recorded data. Each test took so long as the orbit was mapped out in as small an instant of time as she could get away with to maximize the accuracy of thirty years.
With that out of the way, she slammed down the firewalls, and isolated her computer. And then reached over and physically disconnected it. She'd destroy the drives and memory before reconnecting to the network, and restore from an image on the main server. Then she pulled up a program she'd worked out while stuck on Brin and sent here to await her return, and then typed in the Grand Unified Equation she'd worked out with Jubatus' unwilling help, and never shown to anybody. She started the run, and waited while the program tested all the statements and equations this so-called 'Doctor Nakamura' had created and posted for free use after he'd left. She just hoped he'd gotten her best-guess locations for all the probes NASA had put out with big maps on them saying 'Lunch Here'. She'd sent low acceleration iondrive missiles out from Brin Station, but they had only a 15.3% probability of a successful intercept. She couldn't do anything about the radio signals, but such was life.
While she waited, she went through the other e-mails, reading the silly ones, and ignoring the serious, as she'd have to get them off the server again anyway with the restoration. She'd just reached a confirmation of the molding of the skull fragment she'd paid for when the system beeped to indicate completion.
Shutting everything else down, she pulled up the graph of results between what Doctor Nakamura had predicted, and what she knew was right.
She started laughing. A loud, long laughter of relief, of silliness, of giddyness.
His were wrong! Thank the heavens his were wrong!
Apparently, he'd actually been using some kind of SCABS granted abilities to fill in the flaws in his formulas to make it all work.
She was almost giddy in relief.
No threat to reality. No danger of somebody trying a harmless little experiment and causing reality to start unravelling into primal chaos. She'd have to let Jubatus know.
Already, her mind had formulated her official statement on what Doctor Nakamura had left behind. Just a statement that they were internally self-consistent -- they were -- and that experimentation would have to be done to test them. Already, she'd worked out a number of possiblities of using them, so giddeously happy now that she could start working out some practical uses for gravity without risking revealing the secret.
Turning off her system she, she opened the case, removed the hard drives and the memory cards. A moment later they were in the crucible, and the crucible was in the high temperature oven. In half an hour they'd be molten metal.
Leaning back she sighed, and looked up at her ceiling, her eyes closing and dreaming of the heavens. Tears slipped past them. It was her damnable sense of responsibility that kept her here, that kept her away from her dream.
The dream that the bloody inanimorph was living.
She hated inanmorphs! Hated them with a passion. Hated that they had what she couldn't.
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