Interlude Part 1.0
They set up schedules, working in solitary shifts and smaller ad hoc groupings with full group meetings to compare notes two or three times a week. On the few occasions when they were asked about their late night lab sessions, they claimed to be engaged in an extended old school pen-and-paper roleplaying campaign. Their cover story made many of the faculty jealous; after word got around, not a week went past that they weren’t begged by another researcher for an invite into the campaign. Others who might have been concerned about the clandestine research, such as the administration and security, ignored the group once the cover story became common knowledge.
Balfour had been contracted by Chronosoft, Inc. to research a more robust power source for man-mounted cybernetics on long-range manned space exploration missions such as the upcoming Moons of Jupiter expedition. Current cybernetics used a generator for most normal operations, while some auxiliary power was generated by the body’s internal chemistry and stored in a battery. The generators required regular maintenance and yearly parts replacement. Long-range space exploration would require years away from earth, and space on those vessels was in short supply with the necessity for food, gear, backup atmospherics and other essentials. The fewer replacement parts needed the better.
No one really expected Balfour to create a workable upgrade. The money for his research was a low-cost crapshoot in comparison to the total mission budget. If it produced even a 10% increase in battery or generator life, the project would pay for itself.
Balfour’s concept wasn’t just an improvement; it was a complete power source replacement that would win him a Nobel Prize if it worked as he intended. His power source would remove both batteries and generators from the equation altogether. Energy, in this case electricity, was finite. One could not create energy, only use potential energy stored in other forms. Balfour’s design was a device that altered a microscopic particle’s vibrational frequency, something theoretically possible only with the use of a supercollider. The resulting change in string vibration would fire the particle across a dimensional barrier and back. Traversing the dimensional barrier would amplify its potential energy by an unknown factor. Balfour’s best calculations put the amplification rate at 2:1, though in theory there was no ceiling. Even a 2:1 ratio would revolutionize energy consumption on a global scale. So long as one could recycle the altered particle through the dimensional circuit in a continuous stable loop, the particle might well generate a limitless supply of energy.
“You’re talking about a wormhole,” Rolfsberg proclaimed when the theory was first explained. “A wormhole through theoretical dimensions that we aren’t even sure exists, I might add.” His skepticism was palpable.
Carl was just as skeptical, but ecstatic with the possibilities. “But think about what you could do with the ability to tunnel through dimensional states without an acceleration process. You could theoretically pipe energy from there to here or from then to now if you attune the frequency correctly. You could beam Scotty’s farts from the Enterprise to King Arthur’s Court. You could send one erg of stored solar energy from orbit to California losslessly. It’s fantabulous!” Heated discussion ensued.
Balfour watched their arguments with a wry smile barely touching his lips. This group would figure it out, would implement a prototype. And because they’d done the work off the books, he felt no obligation to hand the research over to his corporate benefactors. He had always been mistrustful of large, well-heeled organizations, especially outfits like Chronosoft. He was not a particularly political person; he hadn’t even voted since 2012. Nevertheless, he found the very concept of corporate control of government that was inherent in the Local Governance Licenses to be an unsettling prospect. The LGL monopolization of local power generating utilities had only amplified that unease. The first company that could implement Balfour’s concept would put every other competitor out of business in months. They could literally control the entire world’s energy supply. No one man, no one organization should hold that much leverage. He would rather toss his specs on the GlobalNet to be copied for free, just as Takamura had done with the first plans for the interface jack.
Six sleepless months of late-night conferences, experiments, simulations and arguments had taken their toll. But despite Rolfsberg’s delays with the prototype’s casing materials, they finally had a working, physical model, a thin cylinder about the size of a corn dog. Late that fateful night Balfour placed the prototype on the workbench. “I think I’ll call it the mana engine,” he pronounced proudly.
“That’s a stupid name,” grumbled Rolfsberg, but offered no alternatives. Balfour had learned to dismiss the man’s grumblings out of hand. When he wasn’t offering weak proofs for already-solved formula, he engaged in pointless cynical rants on any subject that the group deemed worthy of discussion. The only thing he really seemed positive about was his delusion of superiority.
“Why mana engine?” Lydia asked, ignoring the Norseman.
“If it works,” Balfour responded, “it will be like mana from heaven. Inexhaustible, constantly renewed, life-giving energy.” Everyone but Rolfsberg nodded, accepting the explanation with satisfaction. He programmed in the last settings on the engine’s tiny display, calibrating it to provide power to a cybernetic arm set up on the table next to it. Carl would send movement commands to the arm while Janicki would reposition the limb at various points around the room with a robotic arm to test the engine’s transfer range. All stood behind the transparent safety glass and offered their own private hopes and prayers to whatever force they believed would aid them.
Balfour triggered the engine. Nothing seemed to happen. There were no sounds, no explosions, no static discharges, nothing. The engine just sat there. Balfour shot a glance at Carl. Carl nodded happily. “Readout is green. The arm has power.”
Balfour could barely contain his excitement. His voice quavered as he said, “Start your movements.”
Carl complied, and the arm began to move. Fingers flexed, metallic muscle fibers tensed and the arm moved freely. Balfour motioned to Janicki who sent the robotic armature down to pick up the cybernetic limb. The arm continued its motions as it was transferred across the lab from one armature to the other. For ten minutes, they watched, occasionally staring back at Carl for statistics. “Power is steady. No decay whatsoever. Every bit that’s used is replaced immediately.”
Balfour watched the readouts over Carl’s shoulder. “Is that temp reading right?” Carl nodded. “The engine is generating no heat whatsoever? Are you sure the monitors are working?”
“Touch it. I can only tell you what the readout says, and it says that thing is generating enough juice to light this room for decades without one micro-degree of thermal leakage of any kind.”
Balfour donned a pair of safety glasses and entered the inner lab. “Just don’t bonk my bald head with that arm, Janicki,” he joked nervously. He walked carefully towards the engine like he was stepping through a minefield, as if he expected every step to be his last. Finally reaching the table, he stuck out a hand and touched the engine gingerly. Feeling no excess heat, he placed a firmer touch to the surface. It was cool. It made no sound, not even the slightest buzz or hum, not even a quiver of vibration in his hand. Other than the cybernetic arm waving around the room, there was nothing to indicate it was working at all. Balfour lifted it and showed it to the rest of his colleagues with a gigantic smile plastered on his mug. “My friends, we have just discovered the equivalent of fire for the twenty-first century.”
Go to Interlude Part 3.0
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Interlude Part 1.0