Manxome foe votsb 3, p.13

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 13

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series


Manxome Foe votsb-3

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  “Miriam!” Bill said, slapping his forehead. “You’re brilliant!”

  “Well, yes, but do you think it will work?”

  “Uh, let’s assume that I’m not so brilliant and explain this to me,” Spectre said. “And XO, get a work party up here with some more sickness bags!”

  “Aye, aye, sir!”

  “Muon and muon neutrino density, sir,” Bill said. “That is what a plus pion or pi-meson decays into. That is what we use to power the box, pions. Maybe we’re pounding it with too many.”

  “Well, we’re going to chill anyway, can’t we just cut them off?” Spectre asked.

  “Good idea,” Weaver said. “Maybe.”

  “There was one more thing.” Miriam said. “I think that the first excited state of the flavor neutral must have the required rest mass of three zero nine six point nine million electron volts in oscillating flux density but the half life of the up-type pair must be longer, frame relative, than the rest frame seven point two times ten to the minus twenty-one seconds. The modulation and control of the flux density and pair half life can increase or decrease the flat space metric within the motivation metric to accommodate potential well suitability. But it’s just a guess.”

  “Why three zero nine six point nine MeV?” Bill asked.

  “That question was on the tip of my tongue,” Spectre said, bracing his feet. “Yes, indeed, Miss Moon. Why… what he said?”

  “I’m not a particle physicist but, isn’t three zero nine six point nine MeV the rest mass of the J/psi particle?” Miriam asked.

  “Maulk. I wish my memory would do that,” Bill replied. “That sounds right. I’ll have to look it up.” He looked it up on the ship’s science net and, sure enough, Miriam was right.

  “So?” Spectre glanced over at the COB, who was reluctant to release his hold on the bulkhead stanchion. “How does this help?”

  “I need to think on it some more but the suggestion is to feed it J/psi particles to adjust the gravity and by increasing or decreasing the half life of the particle just means to increase or decrease its relativistic speed and therefore cause time dilation to occur, which in turn makes us in our reference frame observe that the particle lives longer than it should in a rest frame.”

  “And, Commander Weaver?” the CO was out of patience.

  “Sorry sir, we aren’t set up for creating J/psi particles. But it does tell us that the pions we are using are making it worse.” Bill tapped a couple more commands and hit enter with dramatic emphasis.

  “We should signal the all hands for zero gravity, sir,” Bill said.

  “Make it so.”


  “Someone want to tell me what the heck just happened?” the CO asked. “I do recall someone promising me that this astrophysics survey was going to be event free!”

  “Well, sir,” Bill said, slowly and thoughtfully. “I think the black box knows how to adjust for gravity fluctuations of all sorts by inputting different types of mesons. I never really thought of that but it makes sense that it’s got to have some sort of potential control system to deal with the effects we’ve been having trouble with. And apparently the different flavors of mesons have different effects on the thing just like electrons make it go boom. The Mu Ori system is a fairly good sized A type star of about three or more solar masses that has two sets of F binaries orbiting it at very close orbits. The F type binaries are at orbits more like planets from each other rather than like stars. So there are a lot of spinning massive objects here.” Weaver stopped as the CO held up his hand.

  “And the box wasn’t set to account for mixed-up gravity. I get it. And we went to zero gravity because we don’t have these J/psi things to adjust it properly?” Spectre asked.

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Then I was right! We should’ve just turned off the ball to start with?”

  “Uh, yes sir. But…” Weaver decided not to finish whatever it was he was going to say. Which was that if the anomaly had been Tchar’s first guess, anomalous particle input, they might not have been able to shut off the drive. Or get it started again. Or several other bad things ranging up to making a new star in the system.

  “XO, get me a damage report. Mr. Weaver, don’t you have an astrophysical survey to do?”

  “Aye, aye, sir.”

  “And figure out how we’re going to get out of this mess!”

  “Aye, aye, sir.”

  “I need to address the crew.”

  “All hands, all hands, this is the CO speaking. What we just experienced was an unanticipated frame dragging anomaly. Following the chill and survey of this region, we will be leaving. We may encounter additional frame dragging anomalies. So grab your barf bags. Thank you for flying Vorpal Air.”

  “What the pock is a ‘frame dragging anomaly’?” Portana spat.

  “Search me, Portly,” Sergeant Priester said. “Two-Gun? You’re the only guy who gets this stuff.”

  “You sure?” Berg asked. “Kinda technical.”

  “Just give it to us straight, man,” Lyle said with a fake whine tone. “Tell us how grapped we are! We can handle it! We’re marooned, aren’t we? Stuck in the depths of space with no way—”

  “We get it, Lurch,” Berg said, grinning. “Nice way to scare the newbies. But, if you really want to know. I recently found a paper in the database that Lieutenant Commander Weaver wrote about the data in the Gravity Probe B satellite…” Berg started.

  “Oh maulk, here we go,” Priester said. “Tell us how much you’re in love with the astro.”

  “Grapp you, Priestman,” Berg said. “Honestly, I didn’t understand the paper; it was way over my head. But he did have a simple analogy in it to explain the concept. It has to do with…”

  “So, Commander Weaver,” Spectre said silkily. “Kindly explain to your CO, who you convinced over his protestations that an astrophysics survey would be a good thing, what this ‘frame dragging’ thing is, why it grapped up my ship and crew and why you failed to anticipate it.”

  “Well, sir,” Bill said with a gulp. “I never really thought it would be a big deal. Until now.”

  “Uh huh. Keep going. Feel free to use words of more than two syllables.”

  “It has to do with general relativity, sir,” Bill said carefully.

  “I did say more than two,” the CO replied. “But relativity is a bunch.” He looked down at his fingers and moved his lips. “Five, actually.”

  “Then imagine that space is like a big rubber sheet that is stretched tight. Kinda like a trampoline. And assume our model is being done on Earth so we have one gravity.”

  “But space is three dimensions and one of time right?” Spectre said, then winced. He was opening up himself for a full-scale Weaver-assault with that one.

  “Oh, this is a two-D analogy sir…”

  Whew. Escaped by the skin of my teeth…

  “Anyway, consider what happens to our trampoline if you place a lead bowling ball in the middle of it. That would be the analog of the sun.”

  “So far, so good.”

  “Well, the space around the ball, the sun, curves in on it and is stretched.”

  “That’s ‘frame dragging’?”

  “Not yet, sir. But, if you spin the ball and allow for there to be friction between the ball and the rubber sheet, the sheet will twist with the ball and bunch up around it. You get my description?”

  “Yeah, I can see that. So the space around you is the reference frame you are in and the spinning star drags it around it as it spins?”

  “Precisely, sir! I wrote a paper about how if we prove that it exists, then we are a step closer to understanding how to do a warp drive, but that was before the Dreen and the world went to shit.”

  “So, where’s the problem, Commander? This frame dragging should be around the star. Localized. We’re a couple of light-years out!”

  “Well sir, there are five stars in this system and all of them spin
ning like maulk.”

  “Oh grapp.”

  “So,” Portana said, carefully. “Two-Gongoron wan’s t’ habe the astrogator babies and too many star spinning too fas’ in a small space is pad. Why you not say t’at in t’e firs’ place?”

  “Hey,” Priester said, leaning back in his bunk. “Welcome to the Space Marines. Please leave your brain at the door.”


  “Sir,” the XO said.

  “Put a note in the log,” the CO said, standing up and looking around the compartment. It had taken nearly an hour of nerve-wracking and gut-twisting maneuvers to clear the system. “Unless ordered by higher, no more close studies of astrophysics anomalies.”

  “Aye, aye, sir!” the XO said. “Officer of the Watch! Update the log!”

  “And put a further note,” Spectre said, walking towards his quarters and pointedly not looking over his shoulder at the astrogator. “ ’And this time I mean it!’ ”


  “CO, chill complete,” The XO reported. He had the daily duty to bring a report on consumables and conditions to the CO and had stopped by the conn to determine the condition of chill.

  “Roger,” Spectre said. “And?”

  “We’re at twenty percent on water stores,” the XO continued. “Forty on air, but we’re reaching break-point on the scrubbers without a way to blow off the CO2.”

  “Roger that, XO,” the CO said, bringing up the repeater on the main scope. They were currently parked in deep space just outside the gravitational bubble of HD 37301. The F5 star was about three quarters of the way to the mission zone and a good point to pick up supplies. The Vorpal Blade was more than three hundred and seventy-six light-years from Earth and only one really weird thing had happened to them. Spectre liked it, the mission was boring so far. Well, compared to the other missions.

  “Astro, CO,” Spectre continued, hitting the comm to the conn.


  “We need to replenish,” the CO said. “What do we have in this system?”

  “Sir, I’ve had the telescopes looking for Jovians and have found two,” Weaver replied. “Or, we could use the comet water extraction gear. I’ve had two of the scopes looking for comets also. Found a few of them out at about seventy AUs on highly elliptical orbits. That’s par for the course in case you’re wondering.”

  “Well, the last time we did the Jovian thing you flooded the ship with squeaky gases.”

  “Uh, yes, sir.”

  “Then why don’t we try the comet thing. Besides, we haven’t done that before and I’m not in the mood for a hundred or more Donald Duck voices on my ship,” Spectre said with a raised eyebrow.

  “Aye, aye, sir,” Lieutenant Commander Weaver responded. “But I’m not sure all the bugs are worked out of that system.”

  “So your recommendation is…”

  “Jovian extraction, sir,” Weaver replied.

  “Right,” Spectre said. “XO, prepare for comet rendezvous and water extraction. Astro, get us up side a good wet one.”

  “Aye sir,” Weaver replied. “But you’d probably prefer a good frozen one. And I’ll bet you a dollar you end up longing for the days of Donald Duck.”

  “I’ll take that bet, Astro.”

  Two-Gun, Lurch, Himes, and Command Master Chief Miller were Wyverned up and preparing to do an EVA onto the comet via the underbelly elevator. The elevator was made of aliglass, a substance also called “transparent aluminum” which was, in fact, more like synthetic sapphire. The elevator was a cube roughly three meters on a side — just big enough that three Wyverns could fit in it or four men in spacesuits. Four Wyverns at a stretch if they weren’t anticipating being eaten or shot on exit.

  “Conn, EVA,” Miller said. The chief adjusted the weight on his footing and prepared for the gravity to drop out from under him. “We’re in the elevator and ready to drop onto the comet.”

  “Roger that. I wish I could be there with y’all,” Weaver said from the EVA control. His accent always got thicker when he got excited. “Y’all will be the first humans to ever walk on a comet. But somebody has to make sure we don’t bump into this thing too hard.”

  “Chief,” Spectre interrupted. “Good luck.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Team,” Berg said. “Remember, comets can have a lot of dust and gasses floating around it in close to the sun. Especially if they have a lot of water ices.”

  “Yeah, so?”

  “Well, way out here it should just be a frozen ball with no clouds or atmosphere,” Berg said. “But that’s only theory.”

  “So…” Lurch replied. “It should be… Holy maulk! It’s like a blizzard out there!”

  The elevator had exited the underbelly of the ship and it was apparent, whatever the theory, that the comet was surrounded in some sort of fog. Since a water fog was impossible in space, what it was composed of was anyone’s guess.

  “Thought you said it’d be clear, Two-Gun!” Himes said.

  “The-or-et-i-cal-ly,” Berg enunciated very slowly.

  “Well, that theory’s out the window,” Lurch said, chuckling.

  “Still doesn’t make sense,” Eric said. There shouldn’t have been that much ice and dust particulate matter floating around them.

  “Two-Gun,” Miller said over a private channel. “We’re whited out here. Suggestions?”

  “Damn thing’s down there somewhere, Chief,” Berg said, looking at the all-enveloping fog, then extending a camera to look down. “Based on the briefing, the radar has to have it close. No more than six meters from the underside. The microgravity of the comet’s much higher than the ship’s. Exit forward, give a short burst relative ‘down’ then watch our laser range-finders. They’re probably going to cut through this better than visual. And it’s not like we’re going to take any damage if we hit hard.”

  “Right,” Miller said, nodding inside his suit. “Team, one safety line to the elevator, one to your buddy. Exit forward, get a relative position stopped by the opening and then one hit of jet relative down. The damned thing’s got to be down there somewhere.”

  To Berg it reminded him a good bit of SCUBA school. Entering the fog immediately cut off all light from the elevators, and even the helmet lights barely penetrated, reflecting back a brilliant white that was so annoying he just turned them off. So he was working in absolute darkness and zero-gravity. It was disorienting as hell, but then so was doing the same thing underwater.

  They’d kept relative position on the ship while they were still in view. Going down was when they’d lost track of everything.

  But just as he was starting to wonder if there really was a comet under his feet his laser range-finder started to report a solid hit.

  “Chief Milller?” Berg said, looking at the range dropping, fast.

  » » »

  “Team,” Miller snapped. “Prepare for landing in three… two… Contact!” It felt a bit like landing in very grainy snow. At least, what it might have felt like if it was grainy snow with no really noticeable gravity.

  “Miller? Chief? What’d you see?” Weaver asked over the com.

  “Not a thing, sir,” Miller replied irritably. “We’re totally zero vis down here. Wait one.” He took the harpoon gun from his belt and fired it into the comet surface. The reaction force of the harpoon pushed him upward off the surface but as soon as the harpoon bit it started to automatically reel in. All he had to do was hold on and work to get his feet in line with the harpoon. He managed to get one knee under him as he hit, then knelt down using the harpoon rope to pull against and picked up a handful of the cometary surface debris.

  “Looks like ice,” Miller said, holding the material up to his camera. “Dirty ice.”

  “Standard cometary ice,” Two-Gun added. “Spectrometer shows it to be water ice with about twice the amount of deuterium in it as ocean water. Just like you expected, Commander Weaver. But…”

  “Good. Well, start laying out the cables and we’ll send down th
e chipper. What is the but, Two-Gun?”

  “Uh, sir? Why all the fog? We’re so far out from the star that this thing should be frozen hard as a rock.”

  “What happens when you stomp your feet against the comet, Two-Gun?” Weaver replied. “Or bring a ship and gravity field in close to it for that matter? And don’t forget that you and the ship are hot.”

  “Huh? Oh, I see.” Berg realized that the disturbance of the ship landing had forced a cloud of debris particles up around it. The gravity of the comet was so slight that it would take months or even years for the dust to settle. And the heat radiators from the belly of the ship were probably melting off ice and causing a microclimate to form around them as well. Space was a delicate, although harsh place; the tiniest variance in temperature could create interesting changes.

  “This damned thing looks like some sort of demented garden tiller,” Machinist Mate Gants said. Behind it a Seaman’s Apprentice rolled a large coiled-up thirty-centimeter-diameter flex hose. The spooled flex hose would be fifty meters long when stretched out.

  “Yeah, or maybe a miniaturized combine tractor.” Miriam laughed then pushed at the compressed, coiled, and tied-up flex hose with her foot. “I assume that someone has noticed that flex hose is not the smartest thing you could use in microgravity!”

  “Well, ma’am,” Gants said, grinning. “You know what they say about assuming…”

  “That’s the last of the cables, Two-Gun.” Himes attached the loop on the end of his Spectra 1000 polymer cable onto the carabineer connected to the chipper. The cables stretched out like spokes of a wheel about the ship for about thirty meters in every direction. They would be used to help guide and hold down the ice chipper.

  The ship had been carefully belayed down to the point where the elevator was in contact with the surface of the comet, then lashed to additional harpoons. As long as none of the forces about to be unleashed exceeded the rated strength of the materials, in near absolute zero cold and pretty solid vacuum, everything would be well.

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