Willie Ragland here. This is a kind of side session to the UNESCO Conference on Space Research, being held this year in Atlanta, my home. Nonetheless the room is packed with delegates, reporters and the general public, for Tiger Leones is about to make another public statement. The organizers had to print up tickets for the public seats, there was so much demand. People haven't quite gotten over the last public statement almost three years ago. Some people never will, particularly those who were heavily invested in certain phone companies and in electric utilities that had just financed expensive new power plants.
I grew up with the lion people; I still have a row of scars where Tiger slashed me when we were both three lion years old. It was an amazing experience for a little black boy: the staff turned us, their own kids, into lions just like the real ones except for the fangs. I was lucky to find my wife Wilma, who had lion training off the disc and is as fierce as they are. She and Tiger hit it off well and we've stayed close; Tiger and Simba even came out (with their brood) to help when our kids were born. And of course they're staying at our house for the conference. Tiger wrangled tickets for both of us.
The session is billed as a panel discussion, but I see only midnight black Tiger on stage. Her white-tipped tail is lashing; it looks like she's about to start.
Tiger: Good morning. This session is somewhat ambiguously titled ``Future Directions in Space Flight'', but I intend to make my future direction rather less ambiguous. The panelists will introduce themselves in a moment. Don't worry, I haven't started making people invisible; they'll come up here when the time comes. Rumors have been flying since I sent out a RFP about a month ago to various national space agencies. The rumors are correct. The Simba and Tiger Leones Family Trust is going to finance a substantial part of the cost of a starship, and Simba and Tiger Leones are going to be on it.
Jeez! Leave it to Tiger to make a statement! There's a lot of commotion as people look at their companions and make comments like ``I told you so''. Someone in back starts clapping, and it spreads. Soon the whole room is filled with applause. But a few people sit in stony silence, and I heard some unkind comments earlier. You can't please everyone.
Tiger: Thank you all. I'm not sure whether to interpret that as enthusiasm for the adventure, or if you're just glad I'm going to send myself somewhere that I don't affect the stock market. OK, now, here are some details. The relevant destinations cluster around ten to twelve light years away; I'll discuss alpha Centauri in a moment. We can reasonably expect to have the power to move the ship at an average speed of two thirds C or a peak speed of 0.85C, which means a travel time of fifteen to eighteen Earth years each way. We have a preliminary estimate of the ship's mass, and we're talking about the power supply for a continent, about two trillion watts, and I think that if you extrapolate sundipper chip production and launch rates, I'm not being unrealistic. I don't intend to spend up to eighteen years with three other people, even my most beloved Simba, strapped into a volume about the size of this podium. We're going as corpsicles, using technology that is unproven as yet but which is being developed with my financing. Yes, the delegate from Gabon?
Delegate: Were you planning to use existing chip production facilities? Or build new ones?
Tiger: In other words, with us buying sundippers as fast as we can launch them, will Gabon have to pay high prices to renovate their power infrastructure, and face a glut of power while the ship is being built followed by a shortage when it's launched? On the latter issue, anyone with a brain will ensure his power supply after the launch date. On the former, I'm still the chief designer for TransForce, and I've notified them, as well as our technology licensees, of a surge in chip demand, although I didn't reveal the reason for it until now. I can tell you what TransForce is going to do: increase facilities, with the cost of those facilities amortized over the number of chips they're likely to sell. I've seen the numbers: Gabon is likely to pay about five percent more for chips than if there were no starship. I also remind you that distribution, not production, is the main part of the cost of power. Your people aren't going to get ripped off.
The gentleman from Gabon bows and sits.
Tiger: Now, as to the destination. We're looking for something interesting, meaning having planets in the life zone. You may have attended the session by Tom Allman and Vladislav Cherevski yesterday. It's no coincidence that their interferometer got funded and got launched by Navajo Space amid a busy schedule. They found, unfortunately, that alpha Centauri is a disappointment: barren, no planets on any of the stars. M stars are too dim; Sirius burns too fast; and that leaves four choices: Procyon, epsilon Eridani, 61 Cygni, and epsilon Indi. Procyon is a really interesting system but the planets are either gas giants or barren rock; you saw the presentation. 61 Cygni is barren due to being a twin binary. Epsilon Indi has two gas giants in the life zone. Epsilon Eridani has a potential Earth-type planet showing oxygen absorption features in its atmosphere, plus one gas giant with a big moon, and other nonlife planets. The destination is clear; we're going to epsilon Eridani.
Yesterday's session indeed was a thrill, the first announcement of life elsewhere in the universe. And the study was funded by Tiger and Simba out of their own pockets, capacious though those may be, when traditional funding agencies turned up their noses, considering Allman and Cherevski's proposed technology to be unproven and too risky. Of course it involved CQMT chips to recombine the signals, so Tiger was a better judge of the risk.
Tiger: And now we'll have our panelists. Whoever is making a substantive commitment today, please raise your hand. I'm not naive; I don't expect to get all parties on board, figuratively, in one session, but I see some hands out there who I've communicated with before. His Majesty the King of Burma. Come on up, your Majesty.
He's a subplot Wilma and I have been following for a while. About eight years ago there was a popular uprising in northern Myanmar, as it was called then, among the Karen tribes against the brutal rule of the Junta. Alaungpaya's father came out of exile in France and proclaimed himself king, alleging bloodlines running back to the royal family deposed by the British in 1886. He and Alaungpaya, then only seventeen, skillfully led their growing army in battle, and finally in Rangoon the Junta generals were thrown to crocodiles brought in for the purpose. It turned out that the King, formerly a dockworker in Marseilles, had been urged by his wife to better himself with the Lion Disc, and when their only child was born they naturally gave him lion training too, and while they didn't learn about crocodiles from us they did learn a great deal about tactics, organization, economics and encouraging people to take the initiative. Thus while Burma started from the bottom after decades of misrule, they're making an inspiring comeback. Though not without opposition: the former beneficiaries of Junta rule unfortunately assassinated the King three years later.
King Alaungpaya: My people have traditionally looked inward. Under my late father's leadership and mine, Burma is again making contact with the rest of the Earth, and what's better than to extend that process to the rest of the universe? Burma pledges five million U.S. dollars toward the starship.
It's not a lot, but Burma doesn't have a lot either. If I were the King I'd be angling for a goodly fraction of the sundippers that will run the ship to be built, and paid for, in Burma. The King takes a place at the right end of the table on stage.
Tiger: The delegate from India, Dr. Rajesh Singh.
Dr. Singh: India will pledge ten million U.S. dollars, and two each infrared, visible and ultraviolet spectrometers, and insystem communication equipment.
He takes his place next to the King. Some people might sneer at Indian products, but we have some money in a fund specializing in Indian telecom issues. Their products, 100% CQMT, are very good and they've won some major international projects away from firms like Ericsson and Northern Telecom. India is taking intelligent advantage of the opening Tiger provided.
Tiger: The delegate from the United States, Mr. Melvin Silverman.
Mr. Silverman (speaking from the floor): As we discussed, I've made a request for a supplemental appropriation for this starship, and it's working its way upward through channels. However, I have to be clear about the mood in Congress. With the end next year of the Space Shuttle program and the shift of launch activities to private enterprise in different states, it's going to take some serious persuading to get the Congress to provide the funds. NASA will commit five million in discretionary funds, but for more the supplemental appropriation will be needed.
Tiger: Your commitment is accepted gratefully. Come on up and have a seat.
In other words, Canaveral is being turned into a national historic park and Huntsville is being ignominiously sold, and the gentlemen from the respective states are not a bit happy about losing the prestige and jobs, and are not a bit willing to support the effusion of that prestige and those jobs to Tiger's pet launch companies in rival states such as Virginia and Arizona. I'm really glad I design turbines instead of being a politician.
Tiger hoped for a shill effect, but she gets nothing more than vague promises from the European Union, the Chinese, the Japanese and the Arabs. She gets less than that from Brazil, unhappily and slowly converting its launch operation to CQMT, and the other South American countries that have sent delegations. The Africans, most of them, have even less to give than the Burmese. She gracefully yields to reality and turns to mission planning.
Tiger: Yes, the delegate from China, Li Fong Mei.
Ms. Li: Could we discuss crew selection, please? Specifically the number of crew and how their national origin will be determined.
Tiger: Certainly. There will be more than two crew. We're not going to take sixteen years to get out there and just stay for a few weeks; I plan to stay for several years. And if I had to look at just one furry face at close quarters for the whole time I'd go crazy, and Simba feels the same way. Also this mission is going to take a broad range of skills: the science, the results of the mission will come in the areas of biology, geology, plasma physics and astronomy, while getting us there and keeping us alive will take biotechnology, mechanical engineering, quantum computational design and programming. I'm sure I've left out some disciplines in both parts. Simba and I have some of those skills, as you know, but less than half of them. Thus we need more people with interlocking skills. A major limiting factor is bringing enough expendables, or paying for the power supply to accelerate those expendables, which are proportional to crew size. We believe that we can support four people, and that four people can handle the mission. Now as to national origin, their qualifications are that they have to be able to get along with me, and Simba and I with them, and they have to have the skills or be able to get them very fast. Those are survival issues, and if national political considerations conflict, such as who made the biggest financial contribution, I'm going to get the crew I want and some nation is going to be unhappy. Clear?
After that there's a noticeable chill from the Chinese direction. The Chinese could have made a big contribution, both financial and scientific. I wonder if Tiger did herself a disservice by displaying herself in natural colors rather than using conciliatory, diplomatic tones. But the Chinese are used to getting their way, as is Tiger, and diplomacy won't make real conflicts disappear. She'd have to take the bad with the good, and Chinese conflicts might in fact be more trouble than they're worth.
Tiger tries to steer the discussion around to scientific issues: what the national delegates want investigated by the expedition. But a number of delegations are angling and politicking for their nationals to get on the crew in exchange for unspecified support to be negotiated later. Tiger is uncharacteristically the model of patience changing the topic back to science repeatedly. But it's clear to me and, I judge, to Tiger that national prestige at the expense of rivals is the name of the game in international ``cooperation''. I'm feeling exhausted as the session draws to a close, and I'm sure Tiger feels the same way.
While most of the audience file out a number of delegates crowd around the stage, probably trying to continue the maneuvering. Tiger chats briefly with her three panelists, then points at me, graciously omitting the claw, and Tiger-signs: Come on, Willie and Wilma; let's do lunch. Pick a place.
We work our way up to the stage. Simba is there too. I notice one of the Arabs shy away from me: racism, I assume. His loss; I don't need to care about what other people think of my race.
Wilma: That was a dynamite talk, Tiger! Who's going? I was thinking about La Salpetriere.
Tiger: Good choice; Dr. Singh will find lots of veggie dishes he can eat. We're taking the panel out to lunch. One of you go with his Majesty and show his security people where it is, and Mr. Silverman has a van and driver with enough room for the rest of us.
Wilma charms her way into the King's car; what woman wouldn't have fantasies about the young, handsome and dynamic King of Burma? I'm mature and confident enough not to spoil her fun. Tiger calls ahead using the Internet phone program on her ever-present laptop, on the net via the AATS, and reserves two tables (the second for the Burmese security and the American driver). When we arrive the restaurant is filling up fast and I'm glad Tiger had that forethought.
Me: This place is named after the volcano, though if you don't like spicy food you can ask them to tone it down. I've had this vegetable curry and it's very good. But today I think I'll have the eggplant stuffed with lamb.
The conversation is good too: the King and Dr. Singh commiserate about the problems of encouraging good scientists to stay in their countries, and both Tiger and Mr. Silverman assure them that they're doing the best thing: to promote economic development so the graduates won't starve when they return; to promote non-ossified, merit-based academic institutions so the graduates have someplace to do their science; and to defend individual freedoms and civilized behavior so graduates don't fear for their lives.
King Alaungpaya: In a country such as mine it's a balancing act. I've done my best to promote the rule of law. After our revolutionary victory my father disposed of the former Junta, and I'm not saying they were any less brutal, but many people were shocked, and they didn't know how to respond. I agitated, behind the scenes of course, for the People's Congress to petition the King not to do that kind of thing, and I calmed him down and got him to think about goals, issues and action, like the Lion Disc says. He shaved his head and prayed in the temple for a week. It wasn't totally an act; he understood that in the civilized world behavior had to change, but he wasn't certain what to do, and he felt that the Buddhist teachings could give him guidance. At the end of that time he instituted a number of reforms, one of which was a specific law stating that nobody was to be punished for any crime by being fed to wild animals.
Tiger: I need to remember his example. I decided to handle the Chinese roughly, but I'm not completely sure what the best strategy is with them.
Mr. Silverman: My impression is that nobody knows how to handle the Chinese, including the Chinese.
King Alaungpaya: A good way to put it, and I have them on my northern border. But the problem with human rights is that the other side doesn't play by the rules; they can kill and torture with impunity and their partisans just say, ``to make an omelet one must break eggs''. I have to walk a fine line between human rights and staying alive. Sometimes I wish for an easy, safe job like flying on your starship.
Tiger: I wish I could offer you a place. But it's safely impossible, for both of us. Your participation in space research is an inspiration not just to your people but everywhere in the world. I've been studying the data coming back from the Burmese plasma experiment on the L2 magnetotail probe. I'm wondering if we can modify your design for a plasma instrument on our ship. But unfortunately I'm an amateur in plasma physics. We have got to figure out a crew, soon, so we can get started with training, and I can just imagine the wrangling, which I got a taste of just now, and I can imagine having to live with the turkeys that come out of it. Lions don't panic, but I have to remind myself of that too many times each day.
Dr. Singh: You're going to be like a family on the starship. That's not easy to do with people you have never known.
Mr. Silverman: I wish we could help you, but you made a very good point about having to live with you specifically, and you and your people know you a lot better than NASA does. Have you thought of an all-lion crew?
Tiger: Yes, of course. Psychologically for the humans of Earth, that would be a bad move. And conveniently, none of the other lions are credible on the skills. An economist, an accountant, a lawyer, a cop, a composer, an artist. Who does the plasma physics? The other two crew members will be human. Are we about done with our food? There's a session I'd like to catch at 13:30.
We get back to the house about 17:00 and the kids greet us. My son Wolf is fifteen, and Wilhelminia is fourteen. She calls herself Wooly for her big afro and as a pun on my name. Wilma and I bred on a normal educated human schedule, unlike the lions who cranked out eight kittens each, starting practically the day they graduated from college. Of course they're an honorary endangered species and we're overpopulated. Wolf and Wooly study at home in the lion manner, and both have already passed the high school equivalency exam. Of course they keep contact with same-age friends in the area, not just staying in the house all the time.
Wolf: Hi, Aunt Tiger and Uncle Simba! That's awesome, epsilon Eridani! I wish I could go. We watched you on the science channel.
Tiger: Surya said the same thing: when are we going? I wish I did know who was going; crew selection is already a nightmare and it hasn't even started yet.
Wilma: So what shape is dinner in?
Wolf: Wrapped and ready to steam. We should start that in about half an hour.
Wooly: Some packages came for you, Aunt Tiger. Wolf signed for them. We put them in the laundry area.
Tiger: Oh, good; they're actually belated Christmas presents for you kids. There was a production delay. Let's open them now.
The kids bring out the cardboard boxes: two about seventy centimeters long and two heavier and more blocky ones.
Tiger: Here, let me cut the tape with my claw.
Wooly: Wow, a skateboard! Gee, thanks! We'll have to put the wheels on. What kind is it, an Ocelot... hoverboard?
Tiger: It's a premarket test unit; these will be in stores probably in May. Open the other package; that's the partner assembly. I included some C-clamps and a piece of plywood so they won't wreck your plasterboard. I'd suggest clamping them to your closet door frames. Decide who's first.
The kids, well trained, do the rock, paper, scissors game, and Wolf wins. Tiger clamps the partner brick inside his closet at floor level, showing Wolf and Wooly that the clamps have to be tight since they have to support the rider's weight as a live load. Wolf plugs in the AATS module.
Wolf: How do I work the remote control?
Tiger: Let's get Wooly set up, then I'll show both of you at once. Here, Wooly, bring your partner unit into your closet. Could you clear a little space? Put the unit down against the floor, and get the clamps good and tight. OK, let's bust up your living room. Put the boards on the floor and turn the units on.
Wooly: Ooo, they hover!
Tiger: Set the height like for a wheeled board; that's the left knob. Turn the speed, the right knob, all the way down for now. Stand real flat on the boards. Control the motion by tilting them.
Wolf: Neato! It can even go sideways. How do you steer... oh, it follows the motion, like a regular board. This is really cool! How fast can it go?
Tiger: Ten meters per second if you turn it to max. You're set for one meter per second now, to learn how it feels. I'm sure someone suicidal will figure out how to override the speed limiter. Keep centered like you are now, going over irregular ground, grass or water. Or snow, if you get any this winter.
Wooly: Can I jump it? It feels solid, not springy.
Tiger: If you kick one end the other will jump up, similar to a board with wheels. If you notice on the control box, there's a screwdriver adjust labeled tracking; that adjusts the following action. Like on a regular board you have to kind of adjust your feet to how much the board wants to bounce up.
Wolf: You said riding over water. What happens if it gets wet?
Tiger: Water won't hurt it, but, step off it, see these four holes? They're the acoustic sensors that govern the height. If they get blocked by water or dirt the board will go into safety shutdown, and it can get confused also over fluffy material like fallen leaves or some kinds of grass. Blow into the holes and that will usually get the crud out. But a safety shutdown over water will dump you in, so don't go over water unless you're willing to get wet. The board will float, and let me show you something. Turn off your board and put it on the couch, upside down, then come over here and turn to ``retrieve''.
Wooly: Wow, it's like it's a zombie, moving through the air!
Tiger: That setting is probably most useful if the board falls in a river. The board moves slowly in a straight line to the control unit. Turn it to ``follow'' and walk around the room.
Wolf: It's like a puppy following me! That's cool. Let's see if I can do a spin on it.
Tiger: Not in follow mode; change back to normal mode.
Wooly: Wow, these are so cool! Thanks, Tiger and Simba! Can we try them outside now?
I'm also wondering when I can get a turn on the magical toys.
Wilma: For a few minutes before dinner. Ten minutes, then you have to come back and steam the chimichangas. Willie, could you help me with some vegetables, please?
Simba: Don't go yet, kids. Wilma, could we hold off a minute on dinner preparations? Look, this may be not quite appropriate, with all the smiling faces, but I've made a decision and I want to get it over with before I lose my nerve. A decision for other people, Tiger. We have this crew problem. We need to design and build a ship, and to explore the planets, particularly the life-bearing one, when we get there. We need someone who we can get along with. Some of the delegates were already pushing their favorite cosmonauts, who I'm sure are very nice people, but I don't know them and Tiger doesn't know them and they're going to be like the Apollo astronauts: pilots first and geologists second. Who's our geologist? I have a candidate crew who are a professional geologist, a professional mechanical engineer, and who we know like family. You two. We gave two hoverboards. Now we're asking for two lives in exchange. How about it?
Me: Jeez, you're serious!
Simba: Damn right! Silverman suggested an all-lion crew himself, remember. That's impossible, but you're the next thing to it.
Wilma: What would happen to the kids?
Simba: We're guessing four years until launch. That means Wooly would be eighteen, human age, when put out on her own. You'll be in college, Wooly, and it would be tough, but I survived something similar. I'm going to suggest that both of you link up with an alternate supervisor, preferably physically close to your college. Any of the lions I'm sure would be willing, or Cathy and Rafe, or your local adult friends.
Me: Tiger, did you know about this?
Tiger: No, but after an initial snarl at not being consulted I'm beginning to see it as the answer to my prayer. If you're willing, of course. If not I'll have to guess which stranger is the least unsatisfactory alternative. There's also the advantage that you're a mated pair. I had a dream last night about a horny cosmonaut propositioning me. Yuck.
Me: We have savings, but it would be hard for the kids to grow up and go to college on what we have so far. It would be a lot like we had in college: jobs and too much debt. Of course you lucked out, in the debt area.
Tiger: You'd be employed by the nascent Eridanus Corporation. I don't want you distracted by financial considerations; we can legally set up a scholarship fund for the kids.
Wilma: I'm a petroleum geologist, not exactly a researcher or a planetographer.
Tiger: Any group I choose, all of the people will have to learn new skills. You're a lot closer in a very important area than most would be.
Wolf: Would my parents come back? And what would they be changed into? I've read some strange things about relativity.
Simba: This isn't a one-way trip. We intend to survive the mission, but success isn't guaranteed. Willie and Wilma, you'd have to be willing to give your life for this, as I am, but I'm also planning on returning. There would be a relativistic time dilation; Wolf, you'd see the ship travel for 16.2 years each way while it would only experience 11.6 years. But relativistic effects on the crew aren't relevant because we'd be frozen and we wouldn't age, and you would, Wolf. That means, let's see, if I remember the dates right you would be one year older than your parents when they return. Attila will be thirteen years older than me. Attila is fully adult now, with her own kittens; she and I aren't exactly supervisor and kitten any more. Our relation is more like me and Charlie: we like each other a lot, but at an equal level. Your relation to your parents would evolve in that direction in any case, but with this expedition physics will enforce the change.
Wooly: It's totally cool! I'd be scared getting in the starship. It might blow up, or there might be Romulans or something waiting out there; you'd have to be really brave to do it. Mom and Dad, if you want to go don't worry about me; I'm tough as a lion and I can take care of myself just fine! And you can see your grandchildren when you get back, and they'll be tough as lions too.
I raise my eyebrow at Wilma. She raises her eyebrow back.
Me: Tough as lions! We'll do it.
Simba enfolds me in a furry lion hug while Tiger envelops Wilma. Then we change partners, and the kids grab us all and start jumping up and down, fortunately in bare feet. It's a joyous celebration.
Tiger: Well, that perked up my appetite! Let's start steaming the dinner. Sorry, kids, to cut into your time to try out the hoverboards. After dinner we should fill you in, Willie and Wilma, on our estimated timeline, and we should at least get a start on planning the training issues. You kids are welcome to eavesdrop, since you'll be involved, helping your parents to have a good environment for learning.
Chimichangas are one of our favorite dishes. We make them a lot less greasy than Mexican restaurants do. While my heart is in good shape so far, being black is a risk factor for atherosclerosis and we're all very careful about grease in our diet.
After we wash up the dishes, Wolf asks to show off.
Wolf: Could I show you guys an idea I had on the hoverboard? OK, I turn it on. Slide into my room; this is so neat!
Me: Unlike your bed.
Wolf: Right, that's next. I hit the tail; oops, let's try that again. Forward momentum, hit the tail, and I'm skating on my bed; you couldn't do that on a regular board! Now I drop off next to my desk. That's cool: it drops like a leaf, not a brick. Now I'll push my chair out of the way; you can get a fair amount of force out of the board, can't you? Now watch this. I turn up the height control, about to here. And I sit down on the board and do my lessons. It's a hoverchair!
Tiger: A hoverchair, that has possibilities! I'm glad to see that an experienced skateboarder can quickly pick up how to control the board.
Wolf: Yes, it works a lot like a wheeled board but better. About the lessons, I have a future, which a lot of black kids don't, and if my parents are going to epsilon Eridani I'd better work twice as hard to make sure I get to my future.
Me: Balance, kid, balance. You work twice as steadily; don't goof off. But you're making fine progress now, and you shouldn't try to double the work because you'll drive yourself crazy and end up with nothing. See the difference?
Wolf: Yes, Dad, I understand, I understand. But it's hard to say it as precisely as you want me to.
Simba: That's true; precise thought and expression are hard. You'll learn to do it, though, if you keep your mind on the issues.
Wooly: Aunt Tiger, could I ask you a question? About a lesson? Because of the starship I was doing a writing assignment on sundippers, but I had trouble to understand one thing: why don't they burn up, being so close to the sun?
Tiger: Sure, Wooly. Be patient for a little background. They're near the sun because it takes a lot of work to build one, and its partner on Earth, and a lot of work to launch it and guide it into orbit and keep it stable there, not crashing into all the other ones, so we want to get a lot of results out of it, and the light is brightest near the sun. We use stacked thin films, so the chip captures almost forty percent of the energy intercepted, and there's a dichroic reflector in back so much of the unused energy is spit back into the sun rather than being absorbed. But even so, for every watt sent to Earth there's almost half a watt of heat, and you're right, the sundipper would fry in literally ten seconds if it weren't cooled. My contribution is getting the energy home via AATS, but also cooling the chip. You're aware, well maybe you're not, but you're going to be now. Heat is composed of vibrations, sound waves in the silicon and diamond films, and the shorter wavelengths have higher energy. The CQMT effect is closely tied in with acoustics, and we're able to selectively absorb the shorter wavelength sound waves. We can't convert them to useful energy; you'll learn why when you get to thermodynamics lessons; but we can transfer them by CQMT to the partner chip, which has boiling carbon dioxide flowing through channels in it to carry off the heat. So the hot heat is sent to Earth, and the cold heat stays in the sundipper. The remaining lower energy phonons average out to a lower temperature, that stays low.
Wooly: I'm not sure if I understand everything, but I understand enough for my assignment. Thanks, Aunt Tiger.
Tiger: Now, people, you want to find a flat surface like the dining table? Kids, bring your laptops. NetBoard to my machine. Here's the timeline we're estimating. The propulsion and chassis and a lot of the avionics and instruments are already fully designed, and now that the project is out in the open we can start building and testing those parts immediately. Suppose 2.5 years to have a starship ready for sea trials. The people we've talked with, confidentially, think it's reasonable, but Willie, you'll be taking responsibility for the production design and particularly the scheduling. On freezing us, they're doing rats now, and a few of them survive, but there's some kind of problem with cracking. Simba estimates they may be ready for the first trial on us in a year, and definitely, as definite as undeveloped technology can be, by the time the ship is built. For the mission we're going to have to take practically nothing with us, and build what we need on site with local materials. There are a lot of unknowns in that approach. Simba has seen this before, but what do you two think?
Me: That's one big project. I've supervised big design jobs but none on that scale.
Wilma: What would we be doing in the, what, three or four years until launch?
Tiger: We'll supervise shipbuilding, but most of the work, and all of the hands-on work, will be done by contractors. Similarly, we'll supervise launching sundippers. I intend to keep them busy while they're waiting for the ship, and one idea I want to pursue is electrolytic smelting of iron: a whole lot less air pollution, and we'll need a compact smelting machine in the starship too. I also want to promote the use of titanium. But none of that will be done hands-on. Most of our time will be spent learning new skills. Simba is closest to professional in biotech, and unless you two want to claim the field, I suggest that Simba train himself to handle investigating the life on that planet. Simba also will be our medic. Wilma, you're the geologist and planetary physicist; you'll need to fill in gaps in your knowledge there. Willie, mechanical engineering is yours: the ship and our equipment. I'm good at building equipment, robots, probes, that kind of stuff, and both Simba and I are good at programming it. That leaves plasma physics, meteorology and astronomy.
Wilma: Well, I like astronomy. This would be close-up research on epsilon Eridani, right?
Me: Plasma is closer to my other skills than to Wilma's. I guess I'll take responsibility for that. And meteorology is based on a lot of fluid dynamics, and that part I'm real good in. But I'd like to learn some of the other areas too. Like, checking out the life forms would really interest me.
Tiger: Right, me too. I think every one of us should learn enough of each area to be able to participate and to be able to take over if the primary person isn't able to do the job.
Me: Like, can't learn it?
Tiger: Like, gets eaten by a large life form. I don't like the idea of my Simba becoming bandersnatch fodder, but we're putting a lot on the line for this mission and we have to make it work with people lost. We need contingency plans, and the cross training is part of it. Let's designate a backup person, and let's say the main person has four units of training, the backup gets two, and the remaining people get one each. OK? I don't mean quantitatively, I mean in emphasis. Willie, you want bio; let's give you research biology and biotech. I get along OK with geology and astronomy. Simba, you know a lot about electricity and I think you should be the backup for plasma physics as well as instrument and chip building. That leaves the mechanical engineering, meteorology and medicine, and also leaves Wilma. OK?
Wilma: As backup, I think I could handle them. Meteorology is kind of related to geology. And every mother has to be an amateur medic.
Tiger: Active kittens; that's right.
We get into various aspects of designing the starship, and Wolf brings up a very important issue.
Wolf: Dad, isn't there radiation in space? If it's going to take you 16.2 years to get there, aren't you going to get fried?
Me: Well, that would be a problem, wouldn't it? Tiger, do you have any figures?
Simba: I worked out something. Going so fast, we'd crash into interstellar hydrogen and dust grains. The dust grains hit hard: 25 joules each, and six per second, with the size range and density that come into our solar system. You're right, unprotected we'd get a lethal radiation dose in less than half a second, and the dust would probably turn us into Swiss cheese. Naturally we're going to be protected. We'll have water for shielding, just like on nuclear reactors. It will mostly be in front. We'll need some help to design the side shields. We'll never have enough power to carry shielding that could reduce cosmic radiation to Earth surface levels; that would take, what, four million kilos: a tiny asteroid. With no shielding, high energy cosmic rays will mostly go right through. With thin shielding lower energy radiation will be stopped, but the high energy rays tend to splatter and your dose actually is more from them. We'll have to optimize the thickness. With such a long journey we'll get about half a lethal dose, but we'll also be frozen: the free radicals will be stuck where produced and they'll mostly recombine there. That's the effect they see on the rats, the ones that survive. So the radiation isn't so poisonous.
Wolf: But I thought space was empty!
Simba: It is, compared to our atmosphere, but remember we'll be going at 85 percent of the speed of light. We cover a lot of emptiness in each second. In the sixteen year trip we'll sweep up about a milligram of dust, and there must be ten or a hundred times as much on this table right now, but it's not moving at 0.85C.
Wooly: Won't the dust make holes in your shield? And sooner or later it'll eat its way through to you.
Me: Not in water; you'll probably get a little bubble of steam which closes right up again. A cavitation resistant lining: we'd need that. But the front of the tank would really take a beating.
Simba: We'd like to make a test flight: lots of propulsion in a very lightweight vehicle, so we can get it up to 0.85C and bring it back while the ship could still be modified. Nobody knows what the dust grains will do on impact, but logically the effect should be the same as the same number of independent carbon atoms, which would go right through the metal. To guard against holes, perhaps made by occasional big grains, we're thinking about a double or triple walled front bulkhead with cooling, so leaking water vapor would freeze and plug the hole.
Me: You're making me scared.
Wilma: You're making me scared too, but I'm not giving up!
Me: I didn't say I wasn't going.
We go on to midnight brainstorming about the ship and exploring various issues that come up. There's a lot to plan and I'm sure this first night's ideas aren't all going to hold up, but I get a feel for the scope of the project. It's big, with more items and more different areas than I've done before, but my experience as the lead designer for a number of big gas and steam turbine contracts has prepared me for a project like this: it will take a lot of hands-on personal design, plus a lot of delegating, and a lot of coordinating different production teams.
The morning brings a lot of busy action. There's a morning session in the ``Future Directions in Space Flight'' series which is subtitled ``Issues in Crew Selection''. The crew, Wilma and I, are introduced to an unhappy set of delegates from major nations, who had a number of issues in crew selection that they wanted to raise. Tiger gets no further commitments of support for the project; except for twenty million in cash and we estimate about 1.2 million dollars worth of Indian equipment, Tiger and Simba are going to have to pay for the whole thing. We did some cost estimates last night and went over the available resources and cash flow. Jeez, I'm not used to seeing so many zeroes! But it looks like they have enough money to do it. We have projections of the increase in sundipper production, Tiger receiving dividends from TransForce (and TransForce from its licensees), and the large fraction of those sundippers that Tiger expects will be launched (with a cut going to her pocket) by Navajo Space and by Wallops, and the number of big AATS modules (again with a credit to Tiger) that will replace expensive and ugly overhead wire distribution, and small AATS's like the ones on the hoverboards. Plus the CQMT comm chips that are taking over the world. If those cash flows come through, the lions will have to sell relatively little stock to make up the difference. But super-rich Tiger and Simba, and we two, will be flying coach rather than first class, and eating tortillas and beans rather than caviar. That suits me fine; I like beans.
But a couple of items come up at lunchtime.
Me: Wilma and I should resign from our jobs pretty soon. If we're going to start training, the next semester at Georgia Tech starts February fourth, in three weeks. We're going to have to scramble to squeeze in there.
Tiger: Right, near term stuff is going to get a little critical. There's another matter, now that we have our crew: where, physically, are you going to work? Atlanta, Salt Lake, or some random place?
Wilma: I'd just assumed here, but maybe Atlanta isn't the best place. What do you think?
Me: The kids would certainly rather stay where their friends are, but if there's a good reason to go elsewhere they'll be good sports about it, I think.
Simba: Atlanta has R&D contractors just like any big city. We've been happy in our Salt Lake home for 27 years, but Surya is on his own now at college; none of the kittens is ever moving back. It would make more sense for us to move here. The work we do is on the net anyway; location doesn't matter.
Tiger: Actually that's not true. In the mission the four of us, like I said, are going to be colocated: stuck in a can about the size of your shower, if that. We need to get used to being packed together, and to see if we can even stand it. I'm having a brainwave; tell me what you think of it. Let's say an exercise mat. We're going to move, with you, onto your exercise mat, and we're going to spend practically every hour for however many years on that mat, together, much like it's going to be on the mission. It's a pretend mission.
Me: Like a pole sitter, but four people. That's totally bizarre!
Tiger: Could we handle it, Simba? Or would we explode?
Simba: I see your point that we'd better handle it. But we'd have to go off the mat to meet with vendors and stuff like that. And I don't think we need to get a chamber pot; I don't think the simulation has to be that detailed.
Wilma: I love you people, but in my face for three or four years? I wonder.
Tiger: The mission itself isn't completely planned, but I'm guessing it will be longer than three years. I mean the unfrozen part.
Me: The kids are going to think we're totally around the bend. But I see your point: if we're going to have trouble we'd better have it on Earth, not at epsilon Eridani.
Tiger: OK, is it agreed? When we get fed up we shouldn't get guilty about breaking training; even on the actual mission I think we should be able to do an EVA just to get away from the tightness. I'll need to, frequently. And we should plan so we can make the EVAs useful in some way.
The rest of the month is spent extricating ourselves from our mundane jobs, setting up the Eridanus Corporation, working out the details of support from Burma, India and NASA, getting snuggled in to our new home one by two meters, and most important, scheduling our training. For example, in February I'm going to start a master's degree in physics, specializing in plasma, from Georgia Tech, using their Web University. Once a week we'll all do an extended EVA and be physically present on the campus, doing labs and consulting with profs and fellow students, but most of the training will be done on the net from our palatial mat. Getting into the classes on such short notice took all of Tiger's charm; she also reminded the Georgia Tech officials how much prestige attached to being chosen as the official training site for the epsilon Eridani mission.
The year is hectic. I'm essentially a full time student in physics, plus kibitzing in the other people's areas, plus I have a full time job supervising starship construction, recruiting our own staff and selecting vendors for subcontracted parts. Tiger retains her status as the TransForce chief designer, for their prestige, but she's on an extended leave and her major work efforts are in getting two trillion watts worth of sundippers assembled and launched, and renovating the operations of her two launch companies (by NetBoard), and badgering Armco to get serious about developing electrolytic smelting (to use the power from her sundippers). Plus she's learning geology and astronomy with Wilma.
Right now the two of them are leaning against each other, sitting on the mat with their backs to the wall and laptops on lap boards. This is in the living room; Wolf and Wooly are on the couch doing their own lessons, liking the intellectual energy in the room but not needing to adapt to the compact density.
Wilma: For measuring the temperature of a sunspot by Doppler broadening, compare and contrast the following spectral lines: hydrogen I 121.6, iron I 382.4, calcium II 393.4, sodium I 589.0. My God, I know nothing about spectroscopy!
Tiger: Neither do I, but I think that's what we're supposed to learn. Do you recognize any of these lines?
Wilma: No. Well, the first one is Lyman alpha; we learned about that studying type O and B stars.
Tiger: Right, I remember. At that wavelength in the vacuum ultraviolet our instrument won't have great resolution, but it's hydrogen so we won't need great resolution either. But how much Lyman alpha will a sunspot be putting out? It's cold, and most of the emission will be from hotter layers over it.
Wilma: One down. Let's look up some of these... The sodium line is one of the D lines, very strong. But we'd see Fraunhofer lines in absorption; would that matter? I think it would: just a big blot, and we couldn't interpret the line width. Also, same as the hydrogen, we'd be measuring the temperature of the sodium floating over the sunspot, not the sunspot itself. Forget that one.
Tiger: Two down. Look at iron; it's just a hodgepodge of lines around the one in the problem. We might have trouble even being sure which line we were looking at. What's good about the calcium?
Wilma: For one thing, it's in emission and you can do the Doppler broadening measurement. For another, people use ionized calcium lines; remember the pictures of sunspots? In petroleum geology it helps to use similar methods to other people if you want to compare your results to theirs, and I'm sure that's true in any science. Compare and contrast: this one will work; the others stink. Let's write this up, then work on the next problem together. That will be the last one, and then I can help you with the seismic reflection profiling lesson. At least that's something I'm an expert in, for petroleum geology.
Tiger: After an EVA to retrieve a bagel from outside the ship. We've missed lunch, you know.
In the summer of the second year there are four big events. The first is that the shield test ship comes back in one piece, proving that CQMT follows Einstein's Relativity Theory just like everything else, and that the radiation and dust grains won't totally destroy us. But the pattern of radiation damage is interesting. First, there was substantial cavitation damage on the walls of the shield water tank despite the special coating. Apparently the radiation spoiled its energy absorbing properties, and after that whenever a dust grain came to rest near the wall the cavitation just blew off the coating and a tiny fragment of the wall. Most of the energy from a single particle or from a dust grain is deposited at the end of the trajectory, causing a tiny explosion. It looks like all we can do is make the walls thicker.
The second problem was the forward bulkhead. We had four quadrants each using a different leak protection method to protect a small tank of water, ahead of the main shield. The self-sealing goo had the same problem as the tank lining: the radiation turned it solid and it wouldn't seal. The circulating fluorocarbon coolant, which was supposed to turn any leaking water into ice, also turned to poisonous goo, not self-sealing, and just let the water out. The Peltier effect cooler was pretty resistant to radiation damage but, as we kind of suspected when we put it in, it didn't cool enough to overcome the radiation power. Its tank still had some water in it but not very much. The CQMT cooler array was powerful enough until the chips started dying. Our brute force solution for the main shield turned out to be the best: let it leak. Between the four test tanks and the main bulkhead was a space that connected by a pipe to a vacuum pump in the back. When a hole was blown in the bulkhead the water would evaporate and freeze, blocking the hole, but since the bulkhead was heated by radiation and by the water behind it, the ice would continually sublime and more water would come out. The pump just compressed the water vapor back into liquid water which was recirculated to the tank. The titanium bulkhead and the transfer pipe were full of invisible pinholes and there was even one barely visible hole in the unprotected pipe, but the pressure was so low that only a few kilos of water would have been lost on the actual mission. So we have a successful radiation shield.
Shortly after that in July there's another major milestone: the team at Harvard Medical School that's working on the corpsicle problem has done fifty pigs without a mishap, one of those pigs having been frozen and thawed fifteen times in succession, and they're ready to try it on humans and lions. They mail us a sheet of preparation instructions and eight bottles of what looks like soda pop. Each of us is to drink one bottle, wait an hour, drink another bottle, wait another hour, then hop an evening flight to Boston, where we're supposed to check in to the hospital. We're supposed to drink plenty of water, but to eat nothing after lunch, and particularly no food or snacks on the plane.
Tiger: Well, this stuff has a bright, cheery color. Lemon flavor, it says. Pfaugh, it's poisonous!
Simba: Here's a bowl to vomit in.
Tiger: Gaah, it's not setting off my poison alarms but it's vile! Do we have to drink this?
Me: It's supposed to cleanse our systems. I know doctors: we're going to drink it now or we're going to do it while they watch us, or they'll hold our noses and pour it down our throats. Look, the instructions say you can dilute it with water. Here's a cup.
Tiger: Let's try it. Yaah, it just spoils good water. I'm going to just tough it out. Vlecch, vlecch, it's awful! One more swallow. I got it down! OK, crew members, your commander has demonstrated her toughness...
Vile? The word doesn't do the stuff justice. And it wasn't a good idea for us all to take it at the same time due to toilet congestion. ``Cleanse the system'' is a polite phrase for raging diarrhea. Simba and Tiger actually manage to share the toilet; a lion person's rectum everts in a tube, so as to not soil their fur, except in extreme situations like this one. Wolf and Wooly are rolling in the aisles at our predicament. We do not sit on the mat any more until we've all had a thorough shower, after the second dose, for which we allow ten minutes between people. At least the second portion seems to go straight through, not dribbling for the whole hour like the first one did. It's lucky that we had to take a later flight than we wanted, so we have time for all that performance.
After the flight to Boston, on which we watched hungrily as everyone else got a snack, we take a taxi to the hospital and are met by the principal investigator.
Dr. Kwiatkowski: Good evening, Tiger! How was your flight?
Tiger: Empty. Referring to our stomachs, not the seats. This is my mate Simba; this is Willie Ragland, and his mate Wilma.
Dr. Kwiatkowski: I'm glad to meet you all at last, not just NetBoard sessions. Call me Tom. I got you in here for two reasons: to get baseline measurements, and to make sure your preparation is complete. Did you take the purgative? Both doses?
Dr. Tom: I'll take that to mean yes. It's very important to have your insides clear in order to install the heating and cooling modules. Have you been drinking water?
Tiger: Yes, we're all producing urine normally for each species. The water lost from the diarrhea has been replaced.
Dr. Tom: Good. Let's get various samples and measurements and some ultrasound and NMR studies, and then you can get a good night's sleep.
We change into the usual ridiculous hospital wraparound. It's even more ridiculous on the lion people since their tails stick out the open back, and they never wear clothes otherwise. The sampling is really not annoying for me, though Simba cusses a bit when they stick in the special titanium nitride coated needle to get his blood samples; lion skin is reinforced with little opal leaflets. It's been a long day and I'm ready for sleep. The staff person shows us to an adjacent pair of rooms with two beds each, the high hospital variety. I flop on the one nearest the window and Wilma takes the other one.
Wilma: You know, this is the first time I've slept on a bed in, what, two and a half years. It feels so empty, like I'm in the middle of this vast field. Willie, do you feel the same way? Would you mind if I bring my sheet and blanket and join you?
Me: Right. I mean no. I feel empty too. Let's snuggle up like we usually do on the mat. These sheets are so rough and they smell so laundered. I really miss the lions' fur against my back, and their scent.
Wilma: I miss them too. And I'm scared about tomorrow. Willie, mate with me.
I can oblige, for my mate.
In the morning when everyone else is getting their hospital food, we report to the experimental area.
Dr. Tom: Good morning; aren't we looking radiant today!
Tiger: Aren't we trying to decide what to exercise our claws on this morning. Cheerful people have priority.
Dr. Tom: Jokes; that's a good sign. Well, are you all ready to try it out?
Tiger: I suppose. If we're going to be doing it alone for the return trip, we'd better get in practice. The first step would be to stuff a string of my chips up my ass, right?
Dr. Tom: I'd use more doctorly language, but yes. Here's a picture of your colons as if seen in a mirror. Lions and humans have generally similar plumbing. Here are the modules; each of you take a string. It's not delicate; you can lift it by one end. Bring the corresponding control box; don't switch them, get your own. Now each person get on a table. Put on rubber gloves. Let's start the humans first. Spread your legs. Smear a little lubricating jelly on each module and stuff it in. Do three at a time.
Me: Wonderful feeling. They're already kind of cold. What now?
Dr. Tom: Wait a minute until the lions have three inside. I suggest you extend your rectum and kind of lift it over the module. Is that working for you?
Simba: The first module went in easily but now my rectum wants to retract. If I hold the string with my foot I can keep the rectum extended. Let's see if I just hit the button again... Yes, it works. I got two in that time. If we're going to practice steering I think Tiger and I should put in three more. OK, I got it; ready.
Dr. Tom: OK, the button on the box is a joystick, and it impels the selected module in the direction it's pressed. You can turn the box and the force will turn correspondingly. Verify that module one is inside you, and select it. When you're coming home, if one is broken, two is almost as effective.
Me: Module one is outside. What's the last one? I see Simba's: eighteen. I should select that, right?
Dr. Tom: Right. Now see, the colon goes over to your left side. Steer the modules that way. Can you feel them moving?
Wilma: Creepy! I think they've moved as far as they can.
Dr. Tom: Good. Feed in three more, and just keep doing it until they're all in. Let me know if you have trouble positioning them.
It takes us about ten minutes to do them all. Dr. Tom tells us to select intermediate modules to work them around the corners in our colons, where they tend to get stuck.
Tiger: I'll bet some investors would like to see this. Hey, you have a camera here. Would one of you technicians take a picture of me? Yes, frontal with my ass hanging out, and let me get a suitable expression on my face. Thanks. Later I'll decide if I want to post it publicly, but if we didn't take it now there'd be none to post. I feel bad about ruining some people financially, and a little humor might help. Hey, people, your wish has been granted: to stuff the CQMT chips up Tiger's ass where they belong!
Dr. Tom: That's funny. It looks like everyone but Tiger has the whole string inside. Now turn on the ultrasonic probe and each of you check that the modules are straight, not bunched up, and even on both sides. Simba, you need to back yours up about one module length to ensure even cooling on both sides. That's right. Now we need to instill the antifreeze. You've all learned to attach IV lines, right? Do that, please, and connect the other end to a bag of antifreeze. Simba, is the elastic band holding on your fur? You can just lay down on the table while the bag empties, then do the other two bags. There's a lot of water there; the techs have urine bottles. I'll be in my office; the techs will call me when you're finished.
Mainlining 1.5 liters really puts our kidneys to work. Simba and I fill bottle after bottle, and so does Tiger since her urethra runs through her clit which can extend to clear her fur neatly. Wilma just takes her IV pole into the toilet and monopolizes the commode. After the last bag is empty we wait, hungry but not thirsty, half an hour for the antifreeze to fully diffuse into our cells and for the last of the excess water to be removed by our kidneys. Then Dr. Tom returns.
Dr. Tom: We're ready for the main event. Leave your gowns on the tables and come over to the tanks. Unless modifications are needed, these are the actual tanks that you'll put in your ship. Clip the control box underneath and see that the connector is tight. Plug the IV into the infusion pump. Lie face down in the tanks on the webbing, and run the IV line through the little slot. Put the mask on; adjust the strap around your head. Now arms at your sides, and pull the rope under your left hand to close the lid. Can you all hear me?
Wilma: These are claustrophobic! And I'm touching the bottom.
Dr. Tom: When it fills up you won't touch; the top and bottom webs will hold you in the center. We'll verify that by ultrasound. You all know about the breathable liquid, right? The dose of pentobarbital is going to just barely knock you out, so as not to depress your breathing when you're thawed. If you're not completely out when the fluid is pumped in, don't fight it, just let the machine breathe for you. OK? When you're ready, press the big button near your left hand.
It takes guts to hit that button. But I force myself to do it. I can feel something happening in the IV line. Then without warning I drift off to sleep.
No dreams; I wake right up. But I'm not comfortable at all; I'm shivering. And the tank is tilted with my head down at about a thirty degree angle, presumably to let the breathable liquid drain by gravity. My guts seem warm. Like Wilma said, it's claustrophobic in here. I can't move due to the webbing top and bottom.
Dr. Tom: Good afternoon, Willie! Pull the rope on the right side; come on out and get cleaned up.
The rope works, but opening the lid lets cold air onto my wet back. I get the mask off and find that I'm covered with furlike fibers: they reinforced the monolithic block of glassy solid antifreeze solution, to avoid embarrassing cracking. The technician tilts the tank so I can climb out and drip and shiver on a towel on the floor; but the staff member then leads me into the bathroom and starts up the shower for me. The warmth of the water is very welcome. I rinse off the slimy antifreeze and the accompanying fibers. After drying off, I return to one of the tables and finish my tasks by backing out the cooling modules from my colon, kind of like passing a fat metallic tapeworm. Tiger and Simba are sitting on chairs looking bedraggled, like they could use a good shampoo with fur conditioner followed by brushing with sulfur dust. As I finish my job, Wilma emerges from her tank. She waves to me. The procedure was scary and chilly, and I'm awfully hungry, but I don't feel any pains inside from cracking, nor any nausea or other metabolic damage.
When we're all ready the technicians repeat the sampling procedure, and finally food is brought in: for each of us a small bowl of tasteless water-boiled oatmeal.
Dr. Tom: Well, it looks like our first trial with humans and lions was a success. It's now late Wednesday afternoon; you were frozen for more than a day. We'd like you to hang out here overnight. We'll take more blood and urine samples at midnight and tomorrow morning, and make sure the antifreeze is out of your blood. Then you can get out of here.
Wilma: Do we get fed? If we don't get more than that oatmeal, I see plenty of raw meat to eat in this room.
Tiger: Congratulations, doctor, for making our journey possible. But you can be sure, I'll have decent rations ready for eating on the other side. That's a hint.
Dr. Tom: Well, we don't want to put too much strain on your stomachs.
Me: I think I'd like to risk that.
Simba just makes sure everyone sees his fangs and his desire to employ them. We do get clearance to eat a moderate meal at the hospital cafeteria, but Dr. Tom goes with us to make sure it stays moderate.
Shipbuilding is going apace, and in August after last-minute changes in the forward bulkhead we launch the subassemblies into Earth orbit and get busy assembling it, testing it and shaking it down. A ship needs a name. We christen it ``SS David Franck'' after the late director of the Lion Foundation, but in truth we normally just refer to it as ``the ship''. ``SS'' does not represent ``steamship''.
The traditional spaceship is modeled on the old German V2, modified with graceful curves and a heroic access stairway. Our ship much more resembles a stick of uncooked linguini. At the front is a segmented titanium tank, a stack of 42 water-filled boxes one meter long, one meter wide and half a meter thick, with internal braces to hold it against acceleration. This is our radiation shield. Between each pair of segments, and particularly in front of the leading one, is a gap leading to a common duct so leaking water vapor can be recycled. Looking like one more shield tank is the pusher bay, packed with a king's ransom worth of silicon chips. And behind it is our living and working area, one meter wide by half a meter thick. By comparison a phone booth is spacious. At least we can compensate by making the cabin long: five meters, allowing us to stretch out in pairs end to end, with a generous 1.6 meters head to (lion's) tail. The exterior is aluminum plated, not an easy task unless you have our molten salt technology, to reflect sunlight and keep the ship cooler. Several wall panels on the shield tank are anodized with the logos of the Eridanus Corporation and the Lion Foundation, and the flags of the nations contributing financially. Since organic dyes are used, I hope they'll withstand the radiation.
In the midst of supervising shipbuilding we also take a needed vacation in the form of an excursion up to a new Armco plant outside of Detroit, gracing the grand opening with our presence. It's electrolytic, using the molten salt process, and it has essentially zero emissions of pollutants. Armco makes precision alloys and needs very pure iron, and the plant's product definitely is pure, besides being cheaper than blast furnace iron. Tiger has an arrangement so the Eridanus Corporation gets a royalty on the iron, plus until the launch she's selling them power at a reduced price from Eridanus Corporation sundippers that otherwise wouldn't be used, and the expected cash flow will really help finance the final, most expensive phase of shipbuilding that begins now that the chassis is in orbit. Too bad the campaign isn't taking off to put a titanium pot in every kitchen; that also would have put a bunch of our sundippers to work.
The last event of summer is that Wolf goes off to college, at Duke. That's hard for us parents emotionally, particularly as we're harried by numerous responsibilities and glued to our mat, but Wolf got everything planned and packed with Wooly's help and with loving but minimal involvement from us. We all drive up to Durham and get Wolf settled, of course overstaying our welcome from Wolf, who wants to get started with being on his own, but thrilling the other dorm denizens.
One of the more entertaining episodes this fall involves our underpants. No way are we going to spend tens of thousands per garment to send enough clothes to epsilon Eridani to keep Wilma and me covered for eight years. We've decided that we enjoy bare skin and we're going to be able to maintain a temperature in the ship so it's practical; however, humans aren't designed as neatly as lions and so we'll wear underpants. Plain white is ugly on my skin, but all the alternatives had one problem or another, and so the Eridanus Corporation commissioned a line of underpants to our specifications with several very pretty patterns. Ernesto Macias, the New York designer, of course will be selling the pants to the general public too.
Shortly before the public advent of our underpants we're invited as guests on Gloria Hallman's television conversation show. Simba convinces the rest of us that we can set a good example to America's youth by going through with it. You know the format: how nice that you're going to epsilon Eridani, but what are you going to wear?
Me: Well, every kilo of mass requires approximately one sundipper assembly to be fabricated and launched, not one chip but one whole satellite, and corresponding pusher chips on the ship, and all their partners on Earth. Thus we're minimizing the amount of clothes; these nice jackets with the Eridanus Corporation and Lion Foundation logos will have to be left behind. But what we are taking will be stylish. Would you like me to model our outfit right now?
Tiger: I think that would give the viewers a real good feel for the limitations we have to work under and how we've met them.
Ms. Hallman couldn't help knowing we were putting something over on her, but when someone with high prestige and ten-centimeter fangs says ``yes'' you tend to go along. I strip. Having thought about contingencies we practiced how to do that tastefully yet voluptuously. I'm wearing the purple and magenta tiger stripes. I do a 360 degree turn.
Me: Aren't these underpants beautiful? We had Ernesto Macias design a line of them for us. After all, we're spending about twenty thousand dollars per underpant to get them out there and back, and we're going to be looking at them for eight years straight, and we thought we could afford to make them look nice.
All cameras are on me, number three catching Wilma from the back... which is a good thing for the program's rating, since Wilma is in the process of stripping too. Hers are in a red, gold and tan leaf pattern. No, Wilma isn't wearing a bra. Wilma never wears a bra.
Ms. Hallman: My, aren't we casual today! And this is how you'll be for your trip to epsilon Eridani?
Wilma: Yes, at epsilon Eridani this will be, you might call it our working uniform. During the journey we'll be frozen into solid blocks of ice, and clothing won't be practical for that. It's too bad our culture isn't ready for me to do a 360 like Willie did: so much more freedom the males have.
Ms. Hallman: I'm afraid women's liberation has a little way to go yet. And on that topic, who's going to be cooking in the ship, and what will you prepare?
Simba: Like at home, we'll all take turns. We'll have seeds for all ten varieties of Chang bushes...
Eridani pants are the biggest fad since hula hoops, and Macias makes a fortune on them. And quite a number of young ladies wear them like Wilma did, to the great consternation of the civil authorities. How many people realize that Wilma is actually 49 years old, not of an age with those daring tweenagers? I'm very proud of my Wilma.
Back in the real world, mat discipline has to take a back seat to operational realities. It seems like we spend half our time going up to the ship, working on the ship, or coming down from it, like commuting. We stay overnight on the ship fairly often. In truth there's more room inside than there looks to be, because zero G makes the whole volume useful, but the shape, long and skinny to be protected by the shield tank, is not as convenient for work as the mat is.
Simba, with my assistance, tries out the complete process of starting up the bug factory and extruding the plastic wall segments of an agricultural pod and gluing them together. In addition he takes the time to paint (special water based low volatility paint) the interior walls around the consoles and equipment in various cheery colors and with varied vines, flowers and cute little animals peeking around corners. We're going to need the visual stimulation and the reminders of home. Wilma and Tiger practice spectroscopic observations of our Sun, and they identify, correctly, a number of comets, and they smelt electrolytically some simulated comet dust, producing iron, aluminum, titanium and copper, which I fabricate into useful shapes such as wire and (narrow) sheet using our pocket rolling and drawing mill. Using the ion spray chip prototyper that the Japanese finally donated, Tiger fabricates a complete sundipper chip and partner, and shoots it inward about halfway between Venus and Mercury. The power is enough to run the ship's life support, the computers and the smelter, but we dare not collect or use more power because of our limited ability to cool the ship.
The Eridanus Corporation has made a very special deal with Chang Agricultural. Chang bushes have totally revolutionized agriculture, being productive from Namibia to Nebraska. They provide complete human protein and many vitamins, and they come in all of humanity's favorite grain flavors: maize, wheat, rice, oats, barley, rye, millet and sorghum. Plus soybean and azuki bean, which aren't grains but are popular. And unlike bush corn, they have builtin harvesters: acacia ants, which bring ripe seeds to a box marked with pheromone, and which also use their large mandibles to defend their plant from predators. Normally Chang sells bushes in fifteen centimeter pots in exchange for a share of the crop for five years. The nutritious seeds are boobytrapped so they won't sprout, the branches won't put out roots, and the plants bleed to death if you try to divide them below ground. In other words, you have to buy your plants from Chang. We have 110 kilos of ``germline'' seed that lacks the boobytrap. It's for special dwarf bushes, the full size ones being two to three meters high. Growing plastic in the ship's small bug tank, Simba fabricates plant racks to go in the agricultural pod, sprouts ten kilos of the seed, plus assorted vegetables, and brings in a crop after ninety days. It looks like we won't starve at epsilon Eridani. We humans will need supplementary vitamin and mineral pills; the lions make vitamins in their livers and will only need (different) minerals.
There's a lot of EVA, and our suits are working out. They're like body stockings, except for the helmets. They squeeze our bodies with just enough pressure to keep vapor bubbles from forming, and we breathe pure oxygen. An inflated pressure seal around the neck keeps oxygen in the helmet: not a perfect seal, but we burn a lot more of our oxygen than we lose to leakage. There's an expansion bladder, and a stack of gas exchange membranes in it lets out excess water and carbon dioxide from our breath while retaining the oxygen. It takes hard practice to breathe positive pressure all the time, but once Wilma and I have strengthened our rib muscles we have a good time out in space. The lions have no such problem: their ribs are stationary and all breathing is done with a vertical, transverse diaphragm between the two lungs. Their problem with the suits is getting them on and off, because their fur catches in the folds.
There are everpresent rumors that Tiger should or will get the Nobel prize for discovering CQMT, but after the first year Tiger and Simba decided to not even look at that kind of news. They've claimed for themselves the prize they really want. But in late June President Faraldo gives the four of us the Medal of Freedom in a nice ceremony at the White House. King Alaungpaya flies in for the event, and the ambassadors from India and Japan and Mr. Silverman from NASA are also present. We all have to give a speech. Tiger's is the most memorable.
Tiger: I'll try to keep this short; it seems like every time I open my mouth the stock market gets collywobbles. And it shouldn't. Fund managers, the real value lies not in people and companies who are specialized and optimized for specific niches, which can vanish when someone like me makes a discovery, but in those who are able to adapt efficiently to whatever the conditions currently are. Like, for example, the new Indian telecom industry; their example has raised standards everywhere. Students planning their careers should remember that. Now I'd like to change topics and ask, who's getting these medals? Who's going to epsilon Eridani? I read a news posting a few days ago from a well-known columnist who should know better, that the Raglands' position on the crew is a triumph for ``the black man''. I didn't discover CQMT with my midnight black fur, nor am I leading this expedition with my fangs, and Wilma Ragland isn't here because she's a ``black man''; we're on this crew because we can work together and because we have the skills to do it. It's not a triumph for anybody; that means someone wins and someone loses. There are a lot of people out there who are following this expedition closely, and I want you to think of us not as two lions and two niggers, minorities all, not even as four Americans, but as curious people who are representing all of you, regardless of irrelevant distinctions, in a place which until a few years ago nobody dreamed we would have access to. And with any luck, in 27 years you'll know what we find out. And if we don't make it I hope you'll have the guts to learn from what went wrong and to send another ship. Thank you very much.
After which, we retire for two weeks of quarantine, not to arrive at epsilon Eridani with the flu. As always, Tiger's speech ruffles a lot of feathers, but we all worked together to write that speech, and all of us except Wilma lived that reality growing up at the Lion Foundation: sure we're far from identical, but species and, in my case, race has a small effect on the important parts of who we are. I work hard, I learn my lessons, and I learn to make my personality and abilities work for me. So do the rest of us. So should everyone.
Again we're in the tanks. We'll wake at epsilon Eridani, or back here in case of an emergency return. If the ship loses power or otherwise can't reach either destination we'll stay at the bitter temperature of black space until the shield water, warmed by radiation, evaporates away; then the radiation will preserve us as mummies for our trip to the utter end of the universe. I press the big button and am swept away into sleep.