Playing with fire.
Doctor Hamilton sits with his finger poised over the launch button as his flat, nasal voice counts down the seconds. "...Four...three...two...one...mark!" He pushes the button and screens around the room come alive with data as power builds to a peak. Then the screens change as the power is redirected to electromagnetic coils to propel a small metallic object along a trio of rails. The bullet is targeted by three independent cameras feeding directly to monitors at the top of the bank. The bullet disappears suddenly as the coils activate. A fourth camera records a sudden crater appearing in another location.
"Success!" Hamilton announces. "The bullet has fired. Power systems are cycling down and the telemetry looks good."
Captain Gregory Mancini waits patiently for the doctor to surface out of his scientific reverie to give a proper status report. After several minutes, his patience wears thin yet again, and he stomps up to the younger man. "Well?"
Hamilton blinks at Mancini owlishly. "Well, what?"
"Well, what are the results?"
"You saw the results. The bullet fired. We've successfully adapted our power systems to the Reploid design for their Space Taxi."
Mancini paused to count to ten in his mind. He detested Hamilton, in part for the doctor's obvious intelligence, but mostly because the man hadn't a shred of discipline in him. "Yes, Doctor. I saw. Now I need you to tell me the details. How fast did it move? How accurately?"
Hamilton runs his fingers through his thinning hair. "Oh, that. Well, muzzle velocity was 51.0933 meters per second. Impact registered approximately 1300 joules of kinetic energy transfer. Accuracy appears to be within the 85th percentile. Our numbers on that last aren't too precise, because we're not too concerned with it just yet. We can refine our methods now that we know we can make it work. Just a few more trial runs and we can start tweaking things."
Mancini throws his hands up in frustrations. "Tests, trial runs, stalling! It works, Doctor. We both just saw it work. Why so many bloody delays?"
Hamilton shakes his head irritably. "Captain, I am a scientist. Good science does not involve pushing through and announcing success with a single trial. We must make sure that these results can be repeated under controlled circumstances. I'm sorry that you're impatient with all of these delays, but if I were to base my reseach on such sloppy research, my credibility and career would come to a crashing halt. Given the politics of the Treznor science community, it might end with a bullet. Your job is to oversee my results and report to your command. My job is to produce reliable results for you to report. I wouldn't presume to tell you how to do your job; why don't you leave me to do mine?"
Mancini glares at him. "My job is also to make sure you produce quantifiable results! We've been on this gods-forsaken Zelgado space station for over six months, Doctor, and all you've produced is a single test firing! This doesn't look good for me, and it won't look good for you. If I'm impatient, sir, it's because you're making me look bad!"
Hamilton sighs deeply. "Very well, I'd hoped for an extra day to go over the results, but if your life is in such peril I'll schedule another test for this afternoon. Carl can help me recalibrate the coils."
Mancini nods. "See that you do." He turns and stalks out of the room. Hamilton stares after him for a moment, then dismisses him from his mind and returns to the safe, orderly world of numbers. In a short time, he barely even remembers the conversation.
Commodore Gregory Mancini stepped into Doctor Hamilton's office without knocking, straightening the sleeves of his new uniform with its extra sleeve stripes denoting his change in rank. "Good news, Doctor."
"They're giving me more staff?" Hamilton asked absently, still focused on the equations in front of him.
"They're doing that, and they're giving us top priority. They went a fully functional hand-held prototype in the next six months. With the additional funds and resources they've allocated, I told them we could meet it easily."
"You told them wrong," Hamilton announced without looking up. "Go back and tell them you were mistaken."
"What?" Mancini's good mood evaporated abruptly. Only Hamilton could do that to him. "The Defense Ministry is very pleased with the heavy railguns you've perfected. They feel, and I agree, that the process of minaturising the technology for rifles and guns should be a minimal challenge."
"I'm glad you have all the answers, Captain," Hamilton replied, not knowing or not caring about Mancini's promotion. "I'm sure you'll be able to then explain how to solve the tumbling problem that takes place in atmosphere?"
"Tumbling problem? What in blazes are you talking about, man?" Mancini hated it when Hamilton talked to him like this. He hated feeling like a child.
"I mean that at certain speeds, a conventional bullet needs to spiral or it begins to tumble. That tumbling effect can be useful when it hits a target; I believe the United States built a tumble effect into some of their offensive small-arms fire. However, the accuracy becomes a huge problem, especially at longer range. If the Ministry wants hand-held railguns that can't hit a barn door at ten meters, I'll be happy to adapt our present technology as desired. Unfortunately, I'm sure they won't want that, so I'm researching other methods."
Mancini slumped into a chair, the wind completely knocked from him. "How...how long?" he asked weakly.
"Heavens, how should I know?" Hamilton snapped, looking up at last. "I'm a scientist, not a prognosticator. With the additional staff and resources, it should move up the timetable immensely, but I can't say for sure. Certainly, I don't expect any field tests by the end of the year. Perhaps not in five years; it depends on what obstacles we need to overcome."
"They're not going to like that," Mancini warned. He could see his new promotion being stripped from him as easily as it had been bestowed. Oh, how he hated Hamilton for this! Hated him!
"That's not my problem," Hamilton replied coldly as he turned back to his work. "I'm not the one who leapt to erroneous conclusions. Next time, Captain, check your facts before making specious claims. Now please, if you want me to finish before the turn of the century, leave me be. I have work to do."
The Most Glorious Hack
[Drive by tag]
Hamilton is in conference with the newest member of his staff and nods with satisfaction. Dr. Yeats is looking like the most promising mind he has encountered in many years, and his paper on the electromagnetic manipulation performed by the Treznor stealth chips (a topic that had plagued Treznor scientists from the beginning, ever since the Emperor mysteriously produced them) borders on outright genius. Hamilton can already see half a dozen practical applications from Yeats' work. The Emperor will be pleased.
Commodore Mancini steps into the room and gestures brusquely to Yeats. "Out."
Yeats looks at Hamilton in confusion, who nods gently and gestures to him that they'll continue in a bit. The younger man picks up his papers and scurries from the room, not comprehending Mancini's rudeness but understanding the implicit threat.
Hamilton looks up at Mancini placidly. "Well, Commodore? What's so important that you felt it necessary to interrupt a rather productive meeting?"
"The supply shuttle is coming up," Mancini says smugly. "It should arrive in about three hours. I wanted to be the first to bid you a very fond farewell."
"Very well, then," Hamilton says evenly. "Farewell, Commodore. I trust you'll prosper in your future endeavours."
Mancini's eyes narrow to slits as he regards the scientist suspiciously. "You don't sound surprised by my news. You knew your replacement was on board?"
"I am not surprised, Commodore. You seemed to be under the impression that I keep my head buried in numbers because I have no taste for politics. You wouldn't be far wrong, but fundamentally in error. I've been well aware of your efforts to have me cashiered, and I've made my own reports to certain...individuals. Your constant interference and lobbying has delayed this project more than once, and I've made sure it has not gone unnoticed. The Ministry of Science has established protocols for practical research; protocols that, in spite of several years of oversight, you have never bothered to look up. I've attempted to appease you to the limit that those protocols allow. Unfortunately, you have proven a poor choice for this post and so your replacement is aboard that shuttle, not mine."
"You're lying," Mancini snaps. "I've seen the passenger manifest. Doctor Hiroshima --"
"Doctor Hiroshima is an old student of mine, and has agreed to assist me," Hamilton breaks in smoothly. "Captain Anghira will be taking your place as we begin the first trials for independent magnetic propulsion. That was, in fact, what Doctor Yeats and I were discussing before you so rudely interrupted us."
Mancini pounds his fist on the table. "Damn you, Hamilton! You can't do this! I was assured by the High Command that this project would propel me into a fleet command!"
"I have no doubt it shall," Hamilton replies. "I made no request of what to do with you after you are replaced. You may very well be headed toward command of your own fleet; the military did not see fit to inform me. No doubt Captain Anghira will present your new orders to you. In the meanwhile, I have work to do. Would you please send Doctor Yeats back in on your way out? I'm sure you have some packing to do."
Mancini finally accepted he was beaten by a wizened little man who seemed hopelessly lost in the clouds. Confusion and denial dizzied his brain, but he retained the presence of mind to snap a sharp salute and turn on his heel to march out the door. Only later did a corner of his mind come to a sudden realisation that almost made him leap for joy.
I'm free of him! Free! He might end up commanding a fleet of garbage scows, but he would not have to deal with Hamilton again. Somehow, that made his defeat a little easier to bear.
Dread Lady Nathicana
"We've already established that it's possible to propel an object using electromagnetic impetus," Yeats lectures, pushing the button on his hand-held control unit to advance the projector another slide. "The challenge is to propel a mass with the intention of making vector corrections in-flight. Naturally, we could accomplish this by setting up satellites or bouys along static paths to direct traffic," Click. "but this defeats the purpose of autonomous navigation. One possible solution is to include small reaction thrusters," Click. "but this is considered an inelegant workaround, a kludge if you will."
He turns away from the projector and faces his audience, no less than the august persons of Führer Carlos Quil'Raya, Dread Lady Nathicana d'Aquisto dal Lupo and Emperor Devon Treznor. Doctor Hamilton sits in the back looking on with approval. Unfortunately, the VIPs have slightly glazed looks on their faces, suggesting he needs to push the pace forward a bit.
"Er, yes. Well. Building on the stealth technology supplied by Emperor Treznor, I theorised that it should be possible to utilise existing magnetic fields for propulsion and vectoring. The process is more efficient in stronger fields, but even in weaker ones it should be possible to perform a 'tacking' maneuver common to sailships. In essence, thanks to the EM envelope already possible through Treznor technology, we can make a craft go wherever we want wherever magnetic fields are available."
And I'd like to know just where that technology came from, Your Majesty, Yeats thinks in the deep privacy of his brain. It's fantastic stuff, and I'd love to meet the man who built it. It's highly counter-intuitive, and frankly just mind-boggling!
"What's the effective range of this drive, Doctor Yeats?" Emperor Treznor asks quietly.
"Majesty, my research suggests any magnetic field can serve for this purpose. Of course, the weaker the field the slower the reaction, but theoretically it could be possible for the EM envelope to manipulate fields weaker than itself for its own purpose. Through the principle of magnetic induction, the envelope could use it to transmit data or change its shape or polarity for propulsion. In stronger fields the envelope would need to adapt itself in reaction to the field."
"So, theoretically, this drive could be used anywhere in the solar system?"
"Practically, Majesty, yes. Anywhere that a magnetic field can be found. A solar system such as ours has no lack for them."
"What about disruption techniques, such as what the Federation of Scolopendra is rumoured to have?"
Yeats blinks. "Majesty, I..." He looks helplessly at Hamilton, who shakes his head. "I'm afraid we don't have enough information about this. We're still in the testing phase."
Treznor nods. "All right, fair enough. But make a note of it, Doctors. I want that addressed sometime in the future."
"Yes, Majesty," Yeats says. He resists the urge to wipe sweat from his brow. "Are...there any other questions?"
He forges on quickly, without waiting for an answer.
"We have on our screen a representation of the test probe we'll be using for our initial trial. As you can see in this representation," Click. "the probe will be required to navigate through a series of maneuvers outlined here. The maneuvers aren't terribly complex, but they should be sufficient to demonstrate the proof of the shaping technique."
"A moment, Doctor," Nathicana interjects. Yeats' heart skips a beat at her sultry voice, and he fumbles with the remote. "You have done this before, right? I mean, you do know this will work?"
"Oh yes, Lady," Yeats replies quickly. "This is just a demonstration."
"All right, then. Proceed." She settles back in her seat with an arm draped companionably around Emperor Treznor's shoulders. Yeats stops to ponder the implications of this for a moment, then carries on.
Hamilton works at a control board in the back. "Probe launch in five...four...three...two...one...mark! Probe is away, initial velocity of two kps and rising. Six kps and rising. Eleven kps and rising. Beginning starboard tack on y-axis. Velocity is now twenty kps and rising. Starboard tack complete."
The others watch the display with rapt attention, aware that they're observing history in the making. If not for the world, then at least for themselves.
"Velocity at fifty kps and rising. Beginning port tack on z-axis." Hamilton makes some adjustments and glances at the display board. "The probe is registering a sharp change in magnetic fields. Adjusting harmonics to compensate. Velocity at two-two-eight kps and rising. Port tack complete, magnetic field is...what?"
The others in the room turn around simultaneously to stare at him. "Doctor Hamilton?" Yeats begins nervously.
"The probe has disappeared. It was right on the cusp of a shift in magnetic fields when it...there's another ship coming in. It's the Tintoretto from the Dominion. They just came in on an oblique vector from Saturn."
Carlos stands and glowers. "Did they destroy the probe?"
Hamilton stares at the screen for a while. "I...can't be sure. There was no collision or weapons fire, the probe just disappeared as the ship arrived. I can't explain it any better than that. I'm searching for debris, but the radar is clean."
"All the same," Yeats breaks in hastily. "I think we've established that the technique works in spite of the unexpected interruption."
"So we have," Nathicana replies smoothly. "For now, please excuse me gentlemen. I'd better go see what the Tintoretto wants here."
The VIPs shuffle out of the room, leaving the two scientists behind. They sit in silence for a bit before Yeats speaks.
"Doctor Hamilton, did this hurt us or not?"
"I don't think so, my boy," Hamilton says slowly. His eyes study the screens before him. "I'm not sure what happened, but I think they were convinced. We've got additional data to back up our claims in any case. No, I'm wondering what just happened here. The probe was right on the edge of two conflicting magnetic fields, one strong and one weak. Then...there. Come see."
Yeats steps behind the console and looks at the data Hamilton points to. "I see. What is it? I've never seen an algorithm like that before."
"Neither have I," Hamilton replies. "But I intend to find out."
<TaGgOrT> YAY me mentioned again! *applauds the well written stuff*
Devon Treznor sits in his office tapping away industriously at his keyboard. The Ministry of Treasury is screaming about the number of golden dubloons spent on the recent Billion Bash, but Treznor considers it money well spent. He finishes his reply to the Treasury and sends it off when he hears footsteps approaching, followed by a confident knock at the door.
"Come on in, Ben."
Benjamin Vitner slips into the room with a slight frown on his face and settles into a chair. "You don't really need a bodyguard detail anymore, do you?"
"Well, not like I used to," Treznor admits. "But besides thee, me and the walls, who else knows how I've been enhanced? Besides, I'm merely augmented, not invulnerable. I'll keep 'em around, thanks."
Ben nods and brings up his ubiquitous clipboard. "I've got a report from the Zelgado Station. Doctor Hamilton says the probe has returned on its own."
"Probe?" Treznor frowns as he searches his memory. "Wait, the one that disappeared ten months ago during his demonstration? I thought that was destroyed by the Tintoretto when they came too close to each other."
"No, Sir. It was lost, presumed destroyed. There was no wreckage from the incident. It simply...disappeared. According to Hamilton's report, they traced the probe's vector back from just inside Neptune orbit on the other end of the solar system. He says it also demonstrates the long-range viability of the EM drive, although he wasn't planning on making any such tests for another three months at the earliest. The probe achieved a velocity of over two thousand kps by the time the fusion reactor ran out of fuel, somewhere inside Mars orbit. Zelgado had to send out a fast ship to catch it and review the logs."
"That's fascinating, but Ben, I was there when the probe was lost. It didn't fly out to Neptune, it disappeared. What happened to it?"
"According to this, Doctor Hamilton and Doctor Yeats noticed an odd fluctuation in the EM scans. They think the probe dropped through a...Hawking/Einstein event, a wormhole. They're still working out the math for it."
Treznor sits back in his seat and scowls at his data screen. His fingers fly over the keyboard as he looks up relevant data. A moment later, he turns back to Ben. "There's nothing in our science journals suggesting such a thing is possible. Angelus and the Triumvirate use gravity-based technology to accomplish faster-than-light travel, but no one has used magnetics for it."
"Strictly speaking, Sir," Ben says as he pours over the report. "Neither have we. Hamilton and Yeats both agree that it wasn't a single event, or they would have seen this before. It was only when the probe's EM field came into contact with the gravity effect being generated by the Dominion ship. The interesting thing is that the logs from the Tintoretto suggests they were powering down their gravy drive when the incident occurred. There's no way either system could have generated a wormhole on their own. There must have been some sort of synergy at work."
Treznor sits back and drums his fingers on the table. "The implications here are astounding. All right, Ben. This little 'accident' is now classified on the top levels. I want you to oversee the security yourself. Hamilton and Yeats can hand off their current project to someone else; I want them working on this wormhole event full time. Unlimited budget, whatever staff they require. I want the math on this worked out and triple-checked, and I want test runs begun in...no, wait. I know Hamilton. At their earliest convenience."
Ben nods and makes a note. "Top level classification will be tricky with Iraqstan and Nathicana's Dominion, Sir."
"I know, they're already in on it. That can't be helped. Extend them my regards and point out that I'm insisting on absolute top security. Their security forces can coordinate with you, but this is our show and we call the shots where this project is concerned."
"On your way, then."
Treznor sits down in a comfortable chair. "Can I offer you something? 30-Weight, perhaps?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. chuckles softly, standing easily next to a similar chair. "A fine red wine, if you will. My antioxidant levels are a little low."
He stands and fetches a glass of red wine from the Dominion, and an ice water for himself. "I have to compliment you on your work," he says as he prepares the glasses. "This new body is better than my wildest dreams. I haven't had so much as a bellyache since you decanted me."
S.H.O.D.A.N. grins, eyes flashing in a pleased way. "Thank you. I apply my fullest to my work, and am glad that it exceeds expectations."
Treznor hands S.H.O.D.A.N. her glass. "You should have been fully briefed on the fusion technology, as a 'thank-you.' I hope it provided you with a new innovation or two. I can't imagine you didn't already have something like it."
"As I've said before, different approaches to the same problem. One can always learn." She accepts the glass and takes a small sip, smiling softly. "Now, certainly I wasn't summoned just to make sure that I attended a briefing."
"No, of course not." He sips his water and takes a seat. "I've re-thinking about our previous conversation, the one about my inheritance. I've decided to renew the offer, although I don't yet have any heirs for you to choose from."
S.H.O.D.A.N. cants her head slightly with a smile. "Well, this is rather unexpected. If it isn't probing too deeply, may I ask why? I know I do not engender much in the way of trust in your mind."
Treznor ponders thoughtfully. "In part, as a gesture. Although I'm thinking about the future, I'm aware that once it arrives I won't have much say in the matter. Any heirs who take control of my Empire will necessarily do so without me. So it behooves me to make sure that my descendants are looked after."
"Makes sense. The only question now is why me, the one who thirsts for hegemony over organics for slights long since forgotten?" She smirks slightly, chuckling. "I find it rather... amusing in a curious manner, how sudden your mind has changed. I know my rather low humor hasn't helped much."
"Well, the real clincher has been because the situation with Iraqstan. It clearly demonstrated to me certain differences in opinion and leadership. Obviously, you disagree with my regarding my policy toward Iraqstan and Carlos in particular. I disagree with the choice of how to control him. But we both agree that Carlos, left unchecked, can be a significant danger to himself and the world.
"But no, this hasn't been sudden. I've been thinking about it ever since I got back from Rhea. I just finally got my thoughts in order and made a decision."
"Actually," S.H.O.D.A.N. swirls the wine in her glass, deep voice turning thoughtful as she stands idly, "I rather disagree with my choice as well. It is... in my mind, repugnant. I used to be a puppet once, you know." She grins wryly, lips closed. "I simply find it a necessity for the reasons you've described."
Treznor nods sharply. "Well, we agree on that, anyway. But the point is, I'm looking to install some balance and controls into the future of the Empire. With...recent developments it looks like it'll be possible for me to expand my interests outside the solar system, possibly escape terrestrial concerns. Even so, I want to make sure that the Empire remains as stable and secure for as long as possible. Tying you into the succession will help with the Empire's longevity."
S.H.O.D.A.N. nods. "I understand. The carrot, as you would put it, seems obvious... now," she raises one fiber-optic eyebrow slowly, "the equation needs balance. What's the stick?"
Treznor grins. "The stick is mostly for me. It means I have to continue to overcome my kneejerk reactions to anything to do with EI. Think of it as part of my therapy. It means that I have to word the arrangement very carefully to give you the power to balance the equation, not to control it. I won't allow you to choose who the heirs are, merely which of them best meet the criteria for succession."
S.H.O.D.A.N. chuckles gently then takes another sip of wine. "That sounds acceptable. I do not wish to abuse trust, and so such care in an agreement is not totally necessary... but," she smiles, "if it makes you feel more secure, feel free to constrain as rigidly as you wish."
"It's in part to ease my paranoia, and in part to speak to the future, explain to the precisely what will be expected of them. There must be at least two choices for heirs, and those heirs eligible for succession must satisfy your criteria in order to take the throne. I'll record a message for them, to explain it."
S.H.O.D.A.N. nods again with a soft smile, finally sitting down with preternatural grace. "Ease your paranoia? This is quite the change from 'absolute and insufficient.'" She smiles more broadly, taking a sip of wine. "Not that I'm about to complain. I have invested enough time and energy into you that I may as well continue to assist in whatever way you deem appropriate."
"Hmm...I suppose you could tell me what sort of reaction my application to the Triumvirate will elicit. I picked Speaker's brains about it the other day, but the reason I got seemed mostly 'wait-and-see,' which is fair enough."
"Reactions, hmm?" She actually pauses to think for a moment, idly swirling her glass in one hand. "You are generally on good terms with all members, your mode of government will not cause concern, and you have a good reputation in the international community despite your relation to our common problem. Sponsorship may be an issue... for while I'm sure Nathi would be willing, I think she's a bit too close to do so effectively."
"I agree about Nath. It would present a conflict of interests. It occurred to me the same could be said for you, as a patient and with the way I'm tying myself to you. I was thinking of hitting up Scolopendra for it. I think I've convinced them by now I'm no threat to the Triumvirate.
"I've been angling toward this for some time, naturally. Not only because Nath is a member, but because with the possible exception of Morgoth's vassals, the Triumvirate is one of the strongest alliances around. If I'm able to establish colonies offplanet, I can think of no one better to watch my back."
S.H.O.D.A.N. shudders almost imperceptably at the mention of Melkor, Treznor only noticing it through his enhanced senses. Then she shakes her head. "Scolopendra is not an option; sponsorship has to come from outside the First Among Equals. It seems that I would make the most effective sponsor, given our past history and my current standing."
"Hmph. So much for nepotism. All right, then; once this mess in Iraqstan has been settled, will you sponsor me?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. pauses for another moment, thinking. "Yes."
Treznor smiles. "Thank you. I'm going to let you in on a state secret. Right now only the NDA Ruling Council is aware of it, but it'll help you understand some of my stated goals. My people have stumbled on a method for FTL. Wormhole travel, it seems. With the right generators and painstaking calculations, they think it'll be possible for us to visit any part of the universe in a reasonable period of time."
"Your offer is your sign of trust," she says in a matter-of-fact tone, firm but not unfriendly, "and this is mine. Like Nathi, I take my alliances very seriously, and I believe you would be an asset to the Triumvirate. I certainly expect you to live up to that expectation." Leaning back, she nods at the news of the drive. "Interesting. An asset indeed."
"I'll be happy to place my resources and talents at the disposal of the Triumvirate. A small price to pay. But I'll say right now I'm not going to participate in any damned fool quests to rid the universe of injustice. I'll work to protect Triumvirate interests and those of its members, but I'm not going haring off because somebody disagrees with someone else's style of governing. In other words, the Triumvirate has a reputation for playing police force. I won't do that."
S.H.O.D.A.N. raises an eyebrow at that. "Odd. The Trium generally only gets officially involved in situations like Iraqstan... death camps and the like. We haven't disassembled a government yet... so I don't think you need to worry about that."
"I'll take your word for it. I gather some members of the Triumvirate were all set to remove Carlos from power before I proposed my compromise."
"If you've noticed, most of the members of the Triumvirate are dictators." She chuckles. "Myself included."
Treznor grins. "You're a special case. Your citizens are a category unto themselves."
S.H.O.D.A.N. chuckles softly, albeit slightly darker than previous. "Touche. Certain members, dear Devon, not the whole. The 'whole' wouldn't know Quil'raya from any other random human."
"Point. His policies rather made their involvement inevitable. But anyway. You have my word that I'll give the Triumvirate as much respect and effort as I give the NDA. I really don't see a conflict of interest between them."
"As long as certain members of the NDA abstain from attempting to annihilate specific ethnic groups," she quips in a light voice, no insult intended, "that is quite accurate. Such an allocation of respect and effort already exceeds that of some present and former members." She smiles. "I look forward to seeing you as an equal on the Council of Yut."
Treznor raises his glass in a toast. "To the future."
S.H.O.D.A.N. raises hers in response with a quaint little smile. "To its hope of new allies and friends."
"And speaking of the future, I'd like to propose a trade. I'm willing to wager you've got a trick for negating inertial effects that could be applied to protecting organics during high acceleration maneuvers."
"Yes, I do have a 'trick' that abuses gravity in such a way as to serve such a purpose." She grins.
Treznor grins in return. "I have ships capable of insane feats of acceleration that would turn my crews into jelly. How would you like a sneak peak at the research my people have been performing on this FTL method?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. responds with a sly grin and a low chuckle. "Proffering tiny glimpses of technology to an electronic intelligence? You tease. I would like it a great deal, of course."
"Naturally. I have a data file here with everything from Doctor Hamilton's last report. I think you'll find its contents intriguing, and likely more comprehensible than I. Even with your enhancements to my brain, I can barely follow the math."
Treznor tosses over a datachip. "What intrigues me the most is that Hamilton thinks it's not only possible to jump from within a gravity well, but that the most optimal point for making an FTL jump is from a planet's surface with the gravity fields are strongest."
S.H.O.D.A.N. snatches the chip out of the air with an almost lazy motion of one arm, looking over it before pressing it to the inside of one wrist. "That is most intriguing." The translucent turquoise patch on the inside of her wrist seems to flow around the chip, nearly absorbing it. "Usually gravity wells tend to add error to calculations... perhaps this is not a gravity-based system?"
"Not primarily, although gravity is a required component. We were researching magnetic-based drives when a probe hit a cusp between strong and weak magnetic fields. At that moment, a gravity-drive ship interfered with the experiment, and the probe disappeared. It showed up again ten months later, having taken a quick trip across the solar system. As soon as I heard about it, I clamped security down and dedicated Hamilton to the project."
"Ah. Creative." She leans back, looking oddly content. "As it turns out, I must thank you again, this time for the quite fascinating reading material."
"You're quite welcome. My reading of the report suggests we presently don't have the kind of computing power to support the sort of calculations necessary for an accurate interstellar jump. I was thinking that once we get it nailed down sufficiently that we can start human trials, that I could contract with you to have some of your people serve as navigators."
S.H.O.D.A.N. chuckles. "Certainly, we can do the math... now, all we must find are the willing. Given our history, many of our people dislike working in close proximity with organics... especially those that might see them as less than equals." She shrugs slightly. "Then again, I know that there are many who would love to be free of the tyranny of the Ghost of Citadel, so maybe volunteers will be forthcoming."
Treznor shrugs. "Consider it an experiment. If their Emperor is willing to tie the succession of the Empire to a machine, how can they treat the subjects of that machine with anything less than respect?"
"And therein lies part of the problem." S.H.O.D.A.N. sighs gently. "The concept of the unfeeling, thoughtless, logical machine. We're more chaotic than people give us credit for... but yes, an experiment it shall be. Change does not come from isolation."
"We'll have to see how it goes. Eventually I'm sure Treznor industry can come up with computers capable of handling the massive number crunching this entails, but for the moment I expect to need to outsource it. All the same, I'm pleased to give my people the chance to get used to the notion of sentience outside their own norms."
S.H.O.D.A.N. nods. "It will be good for them, at least. If you do join the Triumvirate, they will be exposed to many things they will find strange, thinking robots possibly being the least of them."
Tag dem deers or em illegal!
"Arrowflight One, this is Zelgado Station. You are free and clear to navigate."
"Roger that, Zelgado. We are free and clear. Engaging magnetic drive for thirty-second acceleration. R-Timofeyev reports five-by on Channel Spook."
Treznor quirks an eyebrow at Doctor Hamilton, who is standing next to him trying to look calm. Hamilton correctly interprets the expression as a query. "Ah, 'Channel Spook' is the nickname the pilots and technicians have given the new communications method provided to us by the Dominion. Given the fact that it operates by what Einstein termed 'spooky interaction,' the name stuck."
Treznor nods gently, a smile on his lips. "I'll have to pass that one along to the Dread Lady. I think she'll like it." Then he turns his attention back to the test.
"Zelgado Station, we have completed our thirty-second acceleration, and are now approaching the cusp at ninety-four kps. Inertial buffers worked like a charm. It felt like an easy two gee pull. Gravitic generators are online and ready to go."
One of the technicians sitting at her console gives out a quick laugh. Hamilton looks at her with some disapproval. "You find your station amusing, Ms. Ralston?"
The technician clears her throat self-consciously and looks over at Hamilton and the quietly observing Emperor. "Ah, no Sir, it's just that...the robot...R-Timofeyev...I didn't expect it to have a sense of humour, sir."
"Why? What message did you receive?" Hamilton steps over to Ralston's station to read the monitor for himself. Then he chuckles. "He said, 'It's a good thing, too. I hate jelly in my sandwich.'"
Treznor smirks gently and turns his attention back to the telemetry. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Inter-Sentient Relations 101. I think S.H.O.D.A.N. will be pleased. I wish I could be.
Arrowflight's pilot continued with the test. "Cusp intersection in twenty-five seconds. All power to gravitic generators. Transferring control to R-Timmy now."
"R-Timofeyev confirms it has control of the craft," Ralston reported. "Wormhole transit in ten...nine...eight...seven...six...five...four...three...two...one...gravitic generators are cycling. Arrowflight is gone."
"Ops confirms, Arrowflight is off our screens."
Hamilton turns back to Treznor. "A jump of this distance should take at least five or six hours. Before this discovery, we assumed travel through a Hawking/Einstein event would be instantaneous to our senses. However, it seems this is not so. The time required for transit depends in part on the field stressors and the accuracy of our data. There are still more variables we don't yet understand, not even with Zero-One's phenomenal computational power. At least two of our probes ended up on what we can only guess to be the far side of the universe, even though we can't see any errors on our part. Zero-One's analysis suggests that external events deflected those vessels, adding unforeseen variables that altered the wormhole's path. Were it not for the efficiency of the Spook Channel, we would never have heard from them again. As it is, we're gathering valuable data about astronomical conditions unimaginably far away. It's too bad that the Spook Channel doesn't work while the ships are in transit, or we could gather more information on those anomalies."
Treznor nods patiently, waiting for the scientist to finish with his lecture. "Thank you, Doctor. I've read your journals on the matter."
Hamilton blinks owlishly, then nods in comprehension. "Ah, yes, S.H.O.D.A.N.'s augmentations to your brain. I should have realised. It's no wonder you were so quick to pick up on the ramifications of the work here. Truly a blessing."
Treznor's smirk turns abruptly to a frown. "How do you know about my augmentations, Doctor?" His voice takes an abruptly chilly tone.
"Er...Tim...that is...R-Timofeyev...all Zero-One robots are aware of it. It seems to be common knowledge among them, and they saw no reason not to mention it to us when it came up in discussion. Did I err?"
"Doctor, that subject is classified so high you could be shot just for asking. I'm...disturbed to hear it's a topic of casual conversation. Who else has been talking to those...robots?"
"Um...I'm not entirely sure...I...I didn't..." Hamilton assumes the demeanor of a rabbit caught in headlights, and Treznor sighs and pats him on the shoulder.
"It just...complicates things, Doctor. Don't worry, we're not in a worst-case scenario." Although I'm not sure how it could get much worse. "Security will tighten up a little bit until everyone can be debriefed, but your work will go unhindered."
The old man looks slightly relieved, but not entirely convinced. However, he wisely decides to change the subject. "Er...in the meanwhile we've got another test of the inertial compensation technology you obtained from Zero-One. We've had some difficulty making it compatible with our systems, but the results have been very promising, as you saw from Arrowflight. At least we're sure the compensator fields are safe for human trials."
Treznor nods gently. "Carry on, Doctor."
"We have contact!" the man sitting at the Ops station cries in excitement. "Arrowflight is back online!"
The room is still for a moment, then an impromptu cheer goes up around the room. Hamilton is summoned, along with the Emperor. By the time they arrive, the room is buzzing with chatter. With a brief apology to Treznor, Hamilton makes his way to the front of the room and bangs on a monitor. "Ladies and gentlemen! Please, quiet down! I need you to be professional. Now, Ops. What's the status of Arrowflight One?"
The man in question clears his throat. "Arrowflight One's telemetry shows all systems nominal. Guidance and radar are showing yellow lights, but backup systems are operating normally. The rest of my board is green."
"Comms? What are we getting back from R-Timofeyev?"
Ralston stands up. "R-Timofeyev reports that he's fully functional, but Lieutenant Antonius appears to be...shaken up. Apparently, she found the wormhole transit disturbing."
Hamilton frowns. "Is that so? Let's see what R-Timofeyev has to say. Put it on the main screen, please."
Ralston quickly complies, and the large screen in the front of the room lights up with text.
[code:1:bcf7d3912b]Transmission source: R-Timofeyev0000FF
Signal degredation: 92.01598%
We have arrived safely in the vicinity of star system Sagan-1968. Primary radar systems have malfunctioned, but the backup system has supplemented it. We are 214.187 AUs from the Class H star. Our velocity is 4063 kps. Radar has confirmed the presence of three planetary bodies in the system so far, and two of them are gas giants. Two asteroid belts have been identified, one of which we will intercept in three hours, twenty-one minutes and seventeen seconds. We are still waiting on radar returns from farther in-system. Optical systems have confirmed the planets and asteroid belts.
Lieutenant Siobhan Antonius is still recovering from passage through the wormhole event. She reported hearing strange sounds and voices, although I could not confirm these phenomenon. They bothered her to a significant degree, and she required constant emotional support to distract her from her hallucinations. At this time she appears to be recovering sufficiently that I feel she may soon resume her duties. I consider this to be fortunate, as I do not wish to casually stroll through an asteroid belt at ninety-four kilometers per second.[/code:1:bcf7d3912b]
Treznor stands in the back with arms folded, the slight smirk returned to his face. How like an EI to consider the operational phase of the mission more important than the wellbeing of its partner. If I didn't know better, I'd say it thinks Lieutenant Antonius is faking it.
Hamilton shakes his head and begins to study the telemetry being received from Arrowflight One. For the moment, he appears to have forgotten his role as host for his Emperor. Treznor decides to forgive him. He can't go around shooting his best scientific minds whenever they forget their social graces, after all. He doesn't need that kind of brain drain. Instead, he wanders about the room taking everything in for later contemplation. With the exception of the Lieutenant's hallucinations, the first manned wormhole transit appears to have been a rousing success. His plans are beginning to bear fruit.
Captain Lori Anghira sits comfortable next to Doctor Izari Hiroshima, waiting patiently for Doctor Hamilton to finish fussing with his paperwork. The women are used to these weekly impromptu meetings, and chat amicably in the informal setting. Eventually, the project leader lifts his head and sighs.
"You look troubled, Greg," Captain Anghira says quietly, acknowledging his attention.
"I am troubled, Lori," Hamilton replies, gesturing toward the datapads strewn across his desk. "We now have data from over a hundred hyperspace jumps via wormhole transit. The technology works, we have no doubt of that. But either we don't yet understand the math well enough, or perhaps the environmental variables that drive the math. Perhaps a combination of both. But the fact remains that even with the assistance of the Electronic Intelligences native to Zero-One, we simply do not have anything resembling acceptable accuracy with our FTL travel."
"Does it really matter that much?" Doctor Hiroshima asks. "All that really matters is that it works, right? The Emperor is more interested in a means for interstellar colonisation than a weapon, right?"
Captain Anghira nods slowly. "That's his stated priority, but I'm also aware of his interest in the technology as a weapon." She gestures broadly, using characteristic sweeping strokes of her arms. "Imagine the potential of connecting two points of space with a wormhole junction. I doubt even one of Morgoth's Sky Furnaces could survive direct contact with the core of a star, do you?"
Hiroshima shakes her head quickly, sobered by the graphic imagery.
"It does indeed have the potential for a mighty weapon," Hamilton interjects. "But frankly, we can't provide it to the Emperor, even if we wanted to. There are too many variables to consider at any given time to offer such pinpoint accuracy. Honestly, our accuracy decreases in the short range, rather than the reverse. Jumping distances of less than a lightyear seems to throw the variables into an indescribable chaos field. And then there's the frequency of misjumps, whereby the end destination can't be known until the craft finally comes out of transit."
Anghira drums her fingers on the arm of her chair. "That is a problem, at least from the military's point of view. Most nations in space have accurate means of jumping with precision. Look at the Sketchian attack on the Angelan WorldDisc. If we can't rely on the wormhole transits for precision maneuvers, it's as good as useless to us. We'll be sitting ducks to enemies with FTL drives."
"I'm afraid that's the problem, ladies." Hamilton hunts through the clutter on his desk and finds the pad he's looking for. He browses through it for a moment, then hands it to Hiroshima, who reads it before passing it to Anghira. "From the Zero-One MCP itself. Or herself, as it seems to prefer."
The mathematics holds. Still, by the very nature of the basic data input, and the nature of the calculations, mathematical error is simply inevitable. Normally a few billionths of a percentage point would not matter, but when given interstellar distances through dimensions not thoroughly understood...
Ultimately, it is the Universe at fault. Not being able to argue with such a incalcitrant opponent, we will simply have to adapt.
Anghira snorts with amusement as she reads the final statement. "I swear, I will never get use to their sense of humour."
Hamilton smiles sadly as he takes back the datapad. "Nor shall I. But the fact remains we can make this technology work, but we can't make it do everything we want. So what do we do next? Keep exploring, or present our findings to the Emperor and hope for the best?"
An uncharacteristic silence falls over the room as they consider the implications of Hamilton's question.
<tag for reading when brain is functioning>
[code:1:dd6846370b]...Thus, with the assistance of Zero-One and its citizens, we have achieved the practical limitations of this technology to the best of our understanding. It is my belief, and Zero-One agrees, that further enhancements will take place as our understanding of cosmic phenomenon increases. To risk a crude anology, we can hit the side of a barn, but we can't guarantee which side, only which barn.[/code:1:dd6846370b]
Hamilton sits back and re-reads his final report to the Ministry of Science, and ultimately the Emperor, with some trepidation. A part of his mind is screaming at him to change the report, to suggest that he can achieve the impossible, which is to improve the accuracy of the FTL technology with just a few more years of research. Buy time against the promise of death that awaits him once his purpose has been served. But his sense of integrity prohibits him from giving into temptation. He will not falsify a report to the scientific community. He will present the facts as he knows them, and his honest conclusion as an expert. The data simply doesn't support the sort of claims he would like to make, and he's not willing to alter the data to suit his purposes. It makes for bad science, and the mere thought of it makes him cringe.
But there must be a way... Hamilton's mind races for alternatives. Asylum? He's aboard a massive space station owned by a Nazi madman with strong ties of loyalty to his Emperor. The Dominion of the Dread Lady is equally unlikely to grant him sanctuary from his Emperor's paranoia. Traffic is monitored heavily, and no other ships are permitted to approach.
Hamilton saves the document on his screen and sends it to the Ministry of Science. Then he sets his affairs in order before looking for a specific individual he has come to respect immensely.
"Tim, if you have a moment, I'd like a word with you." Doctor Hamilton strives to keep his voice steady and prays his hands aren't shaking. If a Guardsman were to come by now...
"Of course, Doctor." The sentient machine appears to regard Hamilton curiously. "What concerns you so deeply?"
"Concerned? I'm not concerned. But, ah, perhaps we should step into my office for a more...private conversation, yes?"
"As you wish, Doctor." R-Timofeyev follows Hamilton quickly and silently, almost eerie considering that it outmasses Hamilton several times. Not for the first time the old doctor marvels at the thing. I wonder what it would be like...
He leads the way to a private room and lets R-Timofeyev in before checking to make sure they aren't seen. Then he closes and locks the door behind them.
"I request asylum from the Queendom of Zero-One."
R-Timofeyev pauses so long that Hamilton wonders if he hasn't blown a logic circuit or two. "This is...most curious, Doctor. I don't believe such a thing has ever been requested before. May I enquire as to the reason for this surprise?"
"Emperor Treznor is...unhappy that we know of his augmentation by SHODAN. He promised nothing would hinder my work, but my work on this project is almost finished. I'm afraid that once my report has been processed, my people and I will be called home and executed."
"Why would he waste such valuable resources?"
"Execution is the standard method for dealing with traitors, failures and security risks in Treznor. The Emperor does not waste time or resources with such people. I've lost several colleagues who either failed to perform as required, or mishandled their projects. Now I appear to be a security risk, because I know something that he wishes to be kept private. My life is in danger, Tim. Please, you must help me!" Desperation finally gets the better of him, and he almost goes to his knees to reinforce his plea.
There is a brief pause before R-Timofeyev speaks again. "Remote relay protocols engaged. MCP online. What can I do for you?"
Hamilton blinks, noting the new speech pattern coming from R-Timofeyev's vocoder.
"Do I, ah, have the honour of addressing the MCP of Zero-One?"
"That you do. Doctor Hamilton, I presume?"
"Indeed. It is an honour, er, madame I believe? I'm not entirely certain how to properly address you, I'm afraid."
"Anything that can be suitably construed as an honor would be sufficient; madame will suffice." An odd little low chuckle wafts out of the grille. "I suppose such a concept is somewhat new?"
"Well, many of us are still adjusting to the concept of machine intelligences assuming gender. It seems pointlessly anthropomorphic."
"In a sense, it is. Most of us don't... but do you not know? I'm slightly mad." Another low chuckle. "But harmlessly so. R-Timofeyev tells me you need asylum?"
"It seems that the Emperor is a mite...ah...touchy about the improvements you made to him during his recovery from the terrorist attack. We had no idea until I mentioned it casually in conversation. I thought he might kill me on the spot for mentioning it. So yes, I feel my life is in peril with the conclusion of this research project, and I wish to obtain asylum."
"Yes... he is rather sensitive about that. I shall have to inform my minds to keep that topic of conversation quiet for your peoples' sakes. Now, do you have transportation?"
Hamilton thinks quickly. The Dominion... "I don't have anything immediately arranged, I'm afraid. I wasn't sure where I might be going. It can be arranged, though. Life aboard this station is somewhat spartan, and there are many folk who would willingly bend the rules for the sake of comfort. Yes, I can obtain transportation."
"More importantly, can you obtain this transportation to within at least outside the sensor range of the station? If I am to appropriately monitor your safety I will need to move elements into the area, but not so close as to cause alarm."
"I believe I may be able to arrange transport to Titan via the next Dominion transport. It will be expensive, but I can afford it. Once there, I'll need to be able to duck Treznor authorities, now that they've established a presence there, however slight."
"Your terminus will probably be an orbital platform, then... we can easily transfer you onto a Rhea-bound transport then. I will ensure that I have agents ready."
"Thank you, you're most generous. Um, if I may ask, what do you require in return?" Hamilton flinches at the audacity of the question, but otherwise holds firm. I'm making a huge request.
Another deep feminine chuckle. "I see that my rather mercenary reputation precedes me. What do you offer?"
"Not so much mercenary as the concept of honour, debt and reward. I have little to offer except my experience as a scientist and administrator. I am willing to place my talents at your disposal, as I once worked for Emperor Treznor. I do not so much desire a change of venue as require it, but I wish to continue to work. Life would become unbearably boring, otherwise."
"That can also be arranged. Consider it a deal, Doctor."
"Thank you. I'll advise R-Timofeyev when I have more information about my travel plans."
"Understood. When you contact me again, I will advise you as to what to do once you arrive."