Survival Test, Snippet Eight

Remember that these snippets are very much draft copy.  They include typos, spelling errors, even places where I changed thoughts in mid sentence.  But, if you can get through that, enjoy.

SURVIVAL TEST
by
David L. Burkhead
CHAPTER THREE (Part two)

“Well, John?” Schneider asked the next afternoon. “What have you got?”
Schneider faced Millhouse in Millhouse’s small cabin/office. The narrow cot was lashed up to the wall to make room for two folding chairs. A computer keyboard cantilevered out of the wall below a recessed screen. The keyboard could fold up and would fit over the recess. Next to the computer terminal a slot set flush into the wall and would discharge hardcopy printouts when necessary–rarely.
“We could almost do it,” Millhouse said, “if we could get everyone together. The Germans were doing botanical research. The Japanese have a chemical and electronics industry. Lunaville has raw materials.”
“Then we’ve got it,” Schneider slapped Millhouse on the shoulder.
Millhouse shook his head. “I said ‘almost’.”
“What’s the problem?”
“Problems,” Millhouse said. “Three. He held up one finger. “First, we need time. The research plots of the German plants aren’t even close to large enough to supply what we’d need. It would take time to breed up a large enough stock. I’d guess a year at least. If we could recall the Troy mission, they would buy us that year. Their algae tanks would provide a natural recycling system. The algae could provide our food source, either directly or as raw material for synthesis. I don’t know. That’s not my field.”
“The Troy mission’s beyond our reach for the moment,” Schneider said. “So there’s no point in worrying about it right now. What are the other problems?”
Millhouse held up two fingers. “Second, we need biomass. The rule of thumb is ten to one. Each kilo of animal life, humans in our case, requires ten kilos of plant life. And each kilo of plant life requires several kilos of fertilizer in the form of nitrates, sulfates, water, all sorts of things. Add in that any system we cobble together will be small and won’t have either the feedback loops or the inertia of natural systems. It will be unstable. We would run the constant risk of a collapse somewhere. Again, the answer seems to be the Troy mission. Those asteroids they’re after could provide the biomass we need. For the rest, we’ll have to be careful, and lucky.”
Schneider nodded. “What else?”
Three fingers. “Third and finally, Lunaville, Troy, and the Japanese and German stations all contribute. I have a feeling they’re going to want to know what we’ll be contributing before they let us use their resources.”
“That’s the easiest one of all,” Schneider said. “What do we have that none of the others have?”
“I don’t know. What?”
“We have two ships, right outside, designed for the Earth-Moon run. We have three shuttles down at various GEO stations that can be converted. A. C. Clarke has a stockpile of liquid hydrogen for fuel, less oxygen, but we can get more from Lunaville. Spaceways I has an excellent astronomical laboratory, well equipped for spectroscopic analysis. They can go prospecting for lunar or asteroid materials without ever leaving orbit. Both of the stations have plenty of industrial capacity. We won’t be beggars.”
“It’s a moot point anyway,” Millhouse said. “The hang-up is the Troy mission. We can’t reach them and they can’t get back to us.”
“Let’s look at that for a moment.” Schneider leaned back in his chair. “Is there anything we can build, or convert, that can reach the Trojan point and get back within our time limits?”
“Oh, sure,” Millhouse said. “We could strip down the ship for the resupply mission, nothing more than a fuel tank, ion engine, and solar panels. It could boost with a high enough acceleration to catch them. It might even carry as much as, oh, a ton of payload. I don’t know offhand; I’d have to run it on the computer. Even so, it couldn’t carry enough to be of any help to us.
“Chemical rockets?” Millhouse continued. “Let’s not joke. Nuclear? Maybe a nuclear rocket could do it, but where do we get the reactor, or even fissionables to build one? Fusion? That would be the perfect answer, but demonstrated ignition does not a power plant make. And if it did, we have neither deuterium nor tritium for fuel. And if we had power plant and fuel, we would still have to adapt it for use as a rocket. And if wishes were Newtons we’d be there already.”
“Okay,” Schneider said, “What about the Moon? Can we get what we need there?”
“All but three things,” Millhouse said. “Hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. Oh, we can cook some hydrogen out of the soil thanks to the solar wind, but there’s only the faintest trace of carbon and no one’s ever found any nitrogen.”
“Still.” Schneider rubbed the lower half of his face. “The surface of the moon is larger than all of Africa. There must be some somewhere.”
“Maybe, but–as you said–the moon is big and we are few. How do we find it?”
Schneider shrugged. “I don’t know.”
They sat in silence for a long time. Finally, Schneider said, “Are A. C. Clarke and Spaceways I still taking our orders?”
“For the time being.”
“Whatever they were manufacturing before, cancel it. They will now manufacture gepirs.”
“Do we have a license to produce them?”
“No,” Schneider said. “But considering our current situation, infringing on patents is not exactly my greatest worry.”
Millhouse snorted. “I can see that. Is there some reason why you want an army of gepirs?”
“Of a sort. Well, really, more of a hunch. The General Purpose Industrial Robot is the most versatile and reliable industrial robot made. That’s why I bought them. There’s a solution out there, somewhere; I can feel it. Whatever it is, it will probably, almost certainly, require a much larger industrial base than we have now. I want to expand that base. That’s something we can do now, in advance of whatever we come up with.”
Millhouse nodded. “I’ll get on it right away.”
“One last thing, John.”
“Yes?”
“You were the genius behind our ships before. The Troy mission is the key. Keep working on how we might get to it.”
Millhouse nodded almost absently. His eyes had a faraway look. “Our ships before?”
“You have something?” Schneider asked.
“Maybe,” Millhouse said. “Just a glimmer right now, but…maybe.”

#

While Jared Arthurs allowed nobody into the C.A.M.P.E.R. who had not taken the emergency course in spacesuit wear, only Wade and Crystal, and Jared himself of course, had further qualified to do EVA work. Jared assigned the two of them the task of installing the new antenna.
“I see the mount,” Wade called back over the radio. “What a mess. Looks like we’ve got metal termites.”
“Is the mounting base still intact?” Jared asked.
“Looks to be. Crystal, see if you can get around to the other side.”
“On my way,” Crystal said.
A few minutes later, she said, “It looks good from this side too. The antenna itself seems to have taken the brunt of the damage.”
“All right, Mr. Arthurs. We’re ready. What do we do first?”
Jared stared at the diagram on the computer screen in front of him. Even a simple space habitat, such as C.A.M.P.E.R., was far too complex for any one man to know every detail of its construction. Thus, he had had complete blueprints and repair information stored in the computer against any contingencies that might happen. “There are six bolts, two per strut, connecting the antenna to the arms from the steering motors. Do you see them?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Remove them. Remember to hang onto the old antenna. We may need the metal.”
A short silence, then, “They’re removed, sir.”
Jared nodded to himself at Wade’s reply. He had taken less time than the computer said should be required. He worked well in a space suit. “All right,” Jared said. “Now, see the waveguide tube?”
“I’m not sure,” Wade said.
“I think I have it, sir,” Crystal said.
“It’s a steel tube made of overlapping spiral coils.”
“Got it,” Wade said.
“Oh,” Crystal said. “I thought it was this broken line over here. I see it now.”
“The tube flexes, so drag it out to where you can work on it.”
“Okay, got it,” Wade said.
“Good. Now about halfway along its length you should find a coupling, like a pipe fitting.”
“I see it.”
“Use your clamp to fasten down the side facing the station.”
“Clamped,” Wade said after a moment. “Crystal, you check it please?”
“Looks good to me.”
“All right,” Jared said. “Now twist the other end to the right.”
“Wups,” Wade said.
“What’s wrong?” Jared pulled himself closer to the radio.
“It’s all right,” Crystal said. “Wade’s just being clumsy.”
“I forgot to make sure I braced myself,” Wade said. “I twisted myself instead of the fitting. A moment later he said, “Okay. I’ve got it now.”
With a sigh, Jared talked them through the placement of the new antenna. A few minutes later, they were floating inside the station with him, helmets tucked under their arms.
“Do we have communications?” Crystal asked.
“We’ll find out in a moment,” Jared said. His fingers flew over the keyboard. A few seconds later a name and coordinates appeared on the screen.
“A. C. Clarke,” Jared said. “Well, let’s see if they’re listening.”
“But aren’t we going to call Earth?” Wade asked.
“No point,” Jared said. “Even if we talk to them, I don’t think we’ll get everyone with missile defenses to allow NASA to send up a shuttle for us. Nor do I think we’ll even convince the U. S. Government to lower their defenses long enough to let us make a reentry in the emergency capsule.”
“Then what’s the point?” Crystal looked like she regretted blurting out the statement even as she said it.
“The other stations are in much the same fix we are,” Jared said. “They may have some idea what to do.” He shrugged. “It’s better than sitting here doing nothing.”
He typed a command into the keyboard and saw the computer confirm that the antenna had been realigned to face in a new direction. A tracking program would keep it aimed despite the motions of both C.A.M.P.E.R. and A. C. Clarke.
“Aim will be somewhat crude,” Jared said, “since the program hasn’t been calibrated for any inaccuracies in your installation.”
“What do you mean inaccuracies?” Wade sounded outraged.
“We did good work!” Crystal’s voice held the same emotion.
“I know you did,” Jared said, “but we’re talking about fractions of a degree here. You didn’t have the tools to check alignment and there’s only so much the human eye can do. I think we’ll get through, but the signal may be a little weak.”
Wade looked mollified but Crystal did not seem at all appeased.
A moment later, Jared tried the radio. “A. C. Clarke, this is C.A.M.P.E.R. Do you read me? Come in please, over.”
Static burst from the radio speakers, then, “Omigod! I’ve got somebody! Hello? Say again. Who is calling?”
“This is C.A.M.P.E.R., A. C. Clarke. Over.”
“Roger, C.A.M.P.E.R. I can’t tell you how glad we are to hear your voice. We thought all the LEO stations…I mean, we didn’t think anybody had survived.”
“We almost didn’t,” Jared said. “And we still might not.” He summarized their situation. “So that’s where we stand,” he concluded. “We were hoping you might have some suggestions.”
“C.A.M.P.E.R.,” the voice from A. C. Clarke said, “I’m going to have to get Mr. Terrence. He’s been talking with Mr. Schneider. I think Mr. Schneider is putting together some sort of survival plan, but I don’t know anything about it. Can you hold on?”
“I can wait,” Jared could not suppress an ironic grin. Wait was all he could do.
 “Well, John?” Schneider asked the next afternoon. “What have you got?” Schneider faced Millhouse in Millhouse’s small cabin/office. The narrow cot was lashed up to the wall to make room for two folding chairs. A computer keyboard cantilevered out of the wall below a recessed screen. The keyboard could fold up and would fit over the recess. Next to the computer terminal a slot set flush into the wall and would discharge hardcopy printouts when necessary–rarely. “We could almost do it,” Millhouse said, “if we could get everyone together. The Germans were doing botanical research. The Japanese have a chemical and electronics industry. Lunaville has raw materials.” “Then we’ve got it,” Schneider slapped Millhouse on the shoulder. Millhouse shook his head. “I said ‘almost’.” “What’s the problem?” “Problems,” Millhouse said. “Three. He held up one finger. “First, we need time. The research plots of the German plants aren’t even close to large enough to supply what we’d need. It would take time to breed up a large enough stock. I’d guess a year at least. If we could recall the Troy mission, they would buy us that year. Their algae tanks would provide a natural recycling system. The algae could provide our food source, either directly or as raw material for synthesis. I don’t know. That’s not my field.” “The Troy mission’s beyond our reach for the moment,” Schneider said. “So there’s no point in worrying about it right now. What are the other problems?” Millhouse held up two fingers. “Second, we need biomass. The rule of thumb is ten to one. Each kilo of animal life, humans in our case, requires ten kilos of plant life. And each kilo of plant life requires several kilos of fertilizer in the form of nitrates, sulfates, water, all sorts of things. Add in that any system we cobble together will be small and won’t have either the feedback loops or the inertia of natural systems. It will be unstable. We would run the constant risk of a collapse somewhere. Again, the answer seems to be the Troy mission. Those asteroids they’re after could provide the biomass we need. For the rest, we’ll have to be careful, and lucky.” Schneider nodded. “What else?” Three fingers. “Third and finally, Lunaville, Troy, and the Japanese and German stations all contribute. I have a feeling they’re going to want to know what we’ll be contributing before they let us use their resources.” “That’s the easiest one of all,” Schneider said. “What do we have that none of the others have?” “I don’t know. What?” “We have two ships, right outside, designed for the Earth-Moon run. We have three shuttles down at various GEO stations that can be converted. A. C. Clarke has a stockpile of liquid hydrogen for fuel, less oxygen, but we can get more from Lunaville. Spaceways I has an excellent astronomical laboratory, well equipped for spectroscopic analysis. They can go prospecting for lunar or asteroid materials without ever leaving orbit. Both of the stations have plenty of industrial capacity. We won’t be beggars.” “It’s a moot point anyway,” Millhouse said. “The hang-up is the Troy mission. We can’t reach them and they can’t get back to us.” “Let’s look at that for a moment.” Schneider leaned back in his chair. “Is there anything we can build, or convert, that can reach the Trojan point and get back within our time limits?” “Oh, sure,” Millhouse said. “We could strip down the ship for the resupply mission, nothing more than a fuel tank, ion engine, and solar panels. It could boost with a high enough acceleration to catch them. It might even carry as much as, oh, a ton of payload. I don’t know offhand; I’d have to run it on the computer. Even so, it couldn’t carry enough to be of any help to us. “Chemical rockets?” Millhouse continued. “Let’s not joke. Nuclear? Maybe a nuclear rocket could do it, but where do we get the reactor, or even fissionables to build one? Fusion? That would be the perfect answer, but demonstrated ignition does not a power plant make. And if it did, we have neither deuterium nor tritium for fuel. And if we had power plant and fuel, we would still have to adapt it for use as a rocket. And if wishes were Newtons we’d be there already.” “Okay,” Schneider said, “What about the Moon? Can we get what we need there?” “All but three things,” Millhouse said. “Hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. Oh, we can cook some hydrogen out of the soil thanks to the solar wind, but there’s only the faintest trace of carbon and no one’s ever found any nitrogen.” “Still.” Schneider rubbed the lower half of his face. “The surface of the moon is larger than all of Africa. There must be some somewhere.” “Maybe, but–as you said–the moon is big and we are few. How do we find it?” Schneider shrugged. “I don’t know.” They sat in silence for a long time. Finally, Schneider said, “Are A. C. Clarke and Spaceways I still taking our orders?” “For the time being.” “Whatever they were manufacturing before, cancel it. They will now manufacture gepirs.” “Do we have a license to produce them?” “No,” Schneider said. “But considering our current situation, infringing on patents is not exactly my greatest worry.” Millhouse snorted. “I can see that. Is there some reason why you want an army of gepirs?” “Of a sort. Well, really, more of a hunch. The General Purpose Industrial Robot is the most versatile and reliable industrial robot made. That’s why I bought them. There’s a solution out there, somewhere; I can feel it. Whatever it is, it will probably, almost certainly, require a much larger industrial base than we have now. I want to expand that base. That’s something we can do now, in advance of whatever we come up with.” Millhouse nodded. “I’ll get on it right away.” “One last thing, John.” “Yes?” “You were the genius behind our ships before. The Troy mission is the key. Keep working on how we might get to it.” Millhouse nodded almost absently. His eyes had a faraway look. “Our ships before?” “You have something?” Schneider asked. “Maybe,” Millhouse said. “Just a glimmer right now, but…maybe.” # While Jared Arthurs allowed nobody into the C.A.M.P.E.R. who had not taken the emergency course in spacesuit wear, only Wade and Crystal, and Jared himself of course, had further qualified to do EVA work. Jared assigned the two of them the task of installing the new antenna. “I see the mount,” Wade called back over the radio. “What a mess. Looks like we’ve got metal termites.” “Is the mounting base still intact?” Jared asked. “Looks to be. Crystal, see if you can get around to the other side.” “On my way,” Crystal said. A few minutes later, she said, “It looks good from this side too. The antenna itself seems to have taken the brunt of the damage.” “All right, Mr. Arthurs. We’re ready. What do we do first?” Jared stared at the diagram on the computer screen in front of him. Even a simple space habitat, such as C.A.M.P.E.R., was far too complex for any one man to know every detail of its construction. Thus, he had had complete blueprints and repair information stored in the computer against any contingencies that might happen. “There are six bolts, two per strut, connecting the antenna to the arms from the steering motors. Do you see them?” “Yes, sir.” “Remove them. Remember to hang onto the old antenna. We may need the metal.” A short silence, then, “They’re removed, sir.” Jared nodded to himself at Wade’s reply. He had taken less time than the computer said should be required. He worked well in a space suit. “All right,” Jared said. “Now, see the waveguide tube?” “I’m not sure,” Wade said. “I think I have it, sir,” Crystal said. “It’s a steel tube made of overlapping spiral coils.” “Got it,” Wade said. “Oh,” Crystal said. “I thought it was this broken line over here. I see it now.” “The tube flexes, so drag it out to where you can work on it.” “Okay, got it,” Wade said. “Good. Now about halfway along its length you should find a coupling, like a pipe fitting.” “I see it.” “Use your clamp to fasten down the side facing the station.” “Clamped,” Wade said after a moment. “Crystal, you check it please?” “Looks good to me.” “All right,” Jared said. “Now twist the other end to the right.” “Wups,” Wade said. “What’s wrong?” Jared pulled himself closer to the radio. “It’s all right,” Crystal said. “Wade’s just being clumsy.” “I forgot to make sure I braced myself,” Wade said. “I twisted myself instead of the fitting. A moment later he said, “Okay. I’ve got it now.” With a sigh, Jared talked them through the placement of the new antenna. A few minutes later, they were floating inside the station with him, helmets tucked under their arms. “Do we have communications?” Crystal asked. “We’ll find out in a moment,” Jared said. His fingers flew over the keyboard. A few seconds later a name and coordinates appeared on the screen. “A. C. Clarke,” Jared said. “Well, let’s see if they’re listening.” “But aren’t we going to call Earth?” Wade asked. “No point,” Jared said. “Even if we talk to them, I don’t think we’ll get everyone with missile defenses to allow NASA to send up a shuttle for us. Nor do I think we’ll even convince the U. S. Government to lower their defenses long enough to let us make a reentry in the emergency capsule.” “Then what’s the point?” Crystal looked like she regretted blurting out the statement even as she said it. “The other stations are in much the same fix we are,” Jared said. “They may have some idea what to do.” He shrugged. “It’s better than sitting here doing nothing.” He typed a command into the keyboard and saw the computer confirm that the antenna had been realigned to face in a new direction. A tracking program would keep it aimed despite the motions of both C.A.M.P.E.R. and A. C. Clarke. “Aim will be somewhat crude,” Jared said, “since the program hasn’t been calibrated for any inaccuracies in your installation.” “What do you mean inaccuracies?” Wade sounded outraged. “We did good work!” Crystal’s voice held the same emotion. “I know you did,” Jared said, “but we’re talking about fractions of a degree here. You didn’t have the tools to check alignment and there’s only so much the human eye can do. I think we’ll get through, but the signal may be a little weak.” Wade looked mollified but Crystal did not seem at all appeased. A moment later, Jared tried the radio. “A. C. Clarke, this is C.A.M.P.E.R. Do you read me? Come in please, over.” Static burst from the radio speakers, then, “Omigod! I’ve got somebody! Hello? Say again. Who is calling?” “This is C.A.M.P.E.R., A. C. Clarke. Over.” “Roger, C.A.M.P.E.R. I can’t tell you how glad we are to hear your voice. We thought all the LEO stations…I mean, we didn’t think anybody had survived.” “We almost didn’t,” Jared said. “And we still might not.” He summarized their situation. “So that’s where we stand,” he concluded. “We were hoping you might have some suggestions.” “C.A.M.P.E.R.,” the voice from A. C. Clarke said, “I’m going to have to get Mr. Terrence. He’s been talking with Mr. Schneider. I think Mr. Schneider is putting together some sort of survival plan, but I don’t know anything about it. Can you hold on?” “I can wait,” Jared could not suppress an ironic grin. Wait was all he could do.

Memorial day

This will be brief. I’ll put the monday “Feeding the Active Writer” post up later today.

“People sleep safe in their beds only because rough men stand ready to do violence in their behalf.” George Orwell.

To my eternal gratitude each generation has produced some few men and women willing to place their safety and lives between their homes and those who would do them harm. Many of them have made the ultimate sacrifice, which we remember this Memorial Day.

May you never be forgotten and may you have an honored place at Odin’s table.

And if it please, you, smile down on us and inspire a new generation of heroes with your courage and fortitude as we face whatever challenges come our way as a nation.

Feeding the Active Writer

Continuing the series of tasty, low carb dishes that can be made with a minimum of fuss that can be cooked once and eaten later.  I’m going to stop numbering these posts.

Todays entry:  Cheesy Chicken Cacciatore

2 12 oz cans tomato paste
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
8 oz fresh mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green peppers
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
4 tbsp finely minced garlic (What can I say?  I like garlic.)
1 Tbsp oregano
1/2 Tbsp basil
1/2 Tbsp thyme

4 lbs Boneless skinless chicken (I buy the bagged thighs for this)
12 oz grated mozzarella

In a large mixing bowl combine the first 10 ingredients to form the basic sauce.
Place half the chicken in a 5-6 quart slow cooker.
Add half the sauce and half the cheese.
Finish with the other half of the chicken, sause, and cheese.
Cook on low 10-12 hours.
While still hot, stir thoroughly.  The chicken should break up into pieces.

Serve hot over non-starchy vegetables.

This recipe can be divided into serving size portions and frozen for later thawing and reheating.

Results of my annual exam

Results of the blood tests from my recent annual (8 vials. I swear, at 9 I call Buffy). Everything was good except:

  1. my blood sugar was a bit elevated, just a hair over the normal range
  2. blood creatinine was also just slightly elevated.

So the first thing would appear to be that the great experiment of attempting to control my diabetes solely with diet is over. The creatinine isn’t bad now but considering what elevated creatinine means that is a concern.

Just joy all around.

Update:  Got a call from my doctor.  Because of the rather extensive nature of this round of blood tests (8 vials!) he wants me to come in to go over them in detail.  Appointment set for next week.  We’ll see what we will see.

Update 2 (5/29/14):
Results on the extra thorough blood work that was done as part of my annual (8 vials!) today.

Cholesterol continues to be an issue. In particular much of the “bad cholesterol” is in an “extra bad” form and the “good cholesterol” is more “meh, it’s okay” rather than “that’s really good.” So this is a concern.

Inflammatory response is also a bit high. If my understanding of this is correct, my arteries are a bit “irritated” by the cholesterol floating around. Good news is that the numbers specific for the heart are really good. So apparently my heart farts in the general direction of that cholesterol.

Apparently my body has indicators that it would extra rapidly metabilize certain medicines (Plavix) and this could cause bleeding. Fortunately, I don’t take Plavix or anything like that so we’re good here, at least for now. Also there’s a genetic marker that one of the metabolism pathways for Folic Acid doesn’t work in me. Fortunately my numbers related to the use of Folic Acid are good so the other path appears to be doing the job.

My glucose was a little high (123) but my A1C was good (5.2). Insulin was quite elevated at 29 so apparently while I was able to keep my blood sugar under control with diet alone, my body was working hard to do so. So we’re back on the medication. (We had decided that before we got these results.)

And for some reason my Vitamin D level is low.

And so now I’ve increased the dosage of my cholesterol medicines, started a vitamin D supplement (I was already taking a multivitamin), and we’re adding a new medicine for palpitations (I had to switch off the Carvedilol because of the allergy shots–beta blockers doubleplus ungood) and the current medication isn’t quite keeping them under control. 

Not Stupid

To my liberal friends:

Look, you and I disagree on political philosophy. Fine. We have different priorities on what we consider important. But this “conservatives are stupid/ignorant/uneducated” meme is getting old.

My degree is in physics. I work in “cutting edge” technology (Atomic Force Microscopy, one of the enabling technologies to nanotechnology). I am also a bona-fide “rocket scientist” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spacecub) and have presented at space development conferences and seen concepts that I pioneered (commercial, manned, suborbital flight) go from paper to hardware reality.

I am not stupid, or ignorant, or uneducated. I just happen to think that “liberty” trumps “security.” That the best social program for the poor is a job. That a strong, vibrant, growing economy benefits everyone, rich and poor alike, that “government stimulus” is only able to put money into the economy that it took out of it in the first place and therefore does not help on any except the shortest of terms and actively harms the economy in the long term, and that the government should actually follow the Constitution, that something that is important enough that it must be done even if the Constitution doesn’t allow it, then amend. the. Constitution. to allow it.

And if the schools, that lead to “better educated” folk, have been telling people otherwise, well, so much the worse for the schools.

SURVIVAL TEST Snippet Seven

Remember that these snippets are very much draft copy.  They include typos, spelling errors, even places where I changed thoughts in mid sentence.  But, if you can get through that, enjoy.

SURVIVAL TEST
by
David L. Burkhead
CHAPTER THREE (Part one)

William McIntire glanced up at the sound of the office door opening behind him. Petya stood bleary-eyed in the doorway.
“Glad to see you, Petya,” McIntire said. He tapped Charles Redbear, his other assistant, on the shoulder. Charles looked up from his terminal.
Charles stood almost as large as McIntire, a little slimmer but the same height. Charles wore his black hair in a single braid that hung down his back to his waist. Charles had claimed to be Cheyenne when he’d come to work for McIntire and probably was. McIntire felt certain that Charles had watched too many old westerns and made a game out of making people think he’d walked out of one. Today’s effort included a beaded deerskin jacket to match the moccasins he wore every day.
“Welcome back,” Charles said. After a nod and a smile, he turned his attention back to the screen in front of him.
“I am glad you could make it,” McIntire said to Petya. “Normal work’s come to a halt since the war’s stopped shipping, including material from Lunaville.”
Petya looked puzzled. “Then pochemu, why…?”
“We’re working on that magnetic focuser I told you about.” McIntire had read an article that described a technique for focussing magnetic fields to higher intensities than had ever been achieved before. “I’ve been translating the magazine article describing it into design specifications and Charles has been doing a program design for a simulation. We need the third corner of the team to do the coding.” His gesture took in the remaining chair and terminal. “You ready to get back to work or are you going to loaf some more?”
With a slight nod, Petya took his place.
Several hours later they had a preliminary simulation set up, designed to examine the fields themselves rather than the device used to produce them.
“Okay,” McIntire said. “Let’s let it run for a while and see what happens.”
As he typed the final key, the screen blanked, to be filled an instant later with a screen saver that marked the terminal as functional, but busy with an assigned task.
“How long to finish?” Petya asked.
“Charles?” McIntire turned to face him.
“Depends,” Charles said. “Two–four hours.”
McIntire nodded. “Break time.” He rubbed at sore muscles in his neck. “I’m getting too old for this.”
Petya looked at him with a serious expression. “Perhaps you should consider retiring?”
“Not a chance,” McIntire said. “Shall we go down to the gym? I bet I can still get two falls out of three.” Considering the difference in their sizes, that seemed a safe bet.
“Not possible.” Petya rolled his eyes. “I might damage priceless antique.”
It took McIntire only a moment to realize that the “priceless antique” was McIntire himself. He laughed.
Charles looked disgusted at the two of them. “Lunch.” He left the office.
Petya nodded. “I think Charles has right idea. Lunch?”
For answer, McIntire waved an “after you” gesture at the door. As Petya left, McIntire paused and watched after him. He understood why Petya had won the competition for this particular co-op program. That Petya managed to keep a sense of humor with everything going on spoke well of the young man.

#

“Oxygen production’s up three point eight percent,” Angel told Mason.
“Get behind the men,” Mason said. “Let’s see if we can’t make that an even five percent.” He rubbed at his temples. He had waked with a tremendous headache that morning, which Tylenol® did little to cure.
The door to the processing facility slid open ahead of them. Mason led the way through. A rolling cloud of noise burst out over them, causing his already aching head to throb.
Angel said something that Mason did not hear over the roar of the machinery.
He gritted his teeth and raised his voice. “What?”
“I said,” Angel, too, raised his voice, “why this sudden drive for production?”
“Keep people busy,” Mason said. “Idle hands and minds worry.”
“But is it necessary?” Angel asked. “Maybe a healthy degree of worry is a good idea.”
“Dammit, Brian, must you keep questioning every decision I make? When I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it.”
Angel’s mouth hung open for a moment before he replied, “Yes, sir.”
“Now,” Mason said, “what’s that problem we’re having?”
“Helium coolant levels are dropping. Obviously, there’s a leak somewhere in the system but we haven’t been able to find it.”
Mason nodded. Lunaville’s primary power storage system, the superconducting magnetic loop, relied on liquid helium to function. Without constant cooling it would soon stop superconducting and the stored energy would be converted into heat, enough heat to transform the loop into a molten, glowing puddle.
“Just how bad is it?” Mason asked.
“I’ll let Mr. Ramsey tell you about it.” Angel nodded at the man who stood watch at the panel they were approaching. Mason recognized the device as the primary cryostat system, which they used to condense liquid helium from its gaseous form.
“Doug,” Mason greeted the man.
“Mr. Mason,” Ramsey held out his hand. Mason took it.
“Brian’s told me we’re losing helium. Just how bad is it?”
“We’re losing about ten liters a day,” Ramsey said. “I’ve checked the tanks myself and they confirm the loss.”
“Ten liters?” Mason shook his head. They had reserve storage of over 2500 liters. “That doesn’t sound too bad. Our reserve will last until we can get a resupply.”
“Maybe,” Ramsey said. “If everything goes according to plan. But if that war lasts just a little too long we’ll only have power during the daytime. And even then it will be drastically reduced. Too much of our power generation and distribution system uses superconductors.”
As Ramsey spoke, Mason fought to keep rein on his temper. When he replied, he managed to keep his voice even. “None of that need worry us,” he said. “The war will be over in six months.”
Ramsey seemed about to say something but a sharp shake of the head from Angel silenced him.
Mason spared a glare for Angel before turning and stalking away.
Angel caught up with him in the corridor. “You know….”
“Are you trying to undercut my authority, Major?”
Angel looked puzzled, then said, “No, sir. I was just….”
“Good,” Mason said. “See that you don’t.”
“Sir,” Angel said. “Perhaps it would be a good idea to put some men on the helium problem.”
“Oh?” Although they were the same height, Mason gave the impression of staring down at Angel.
Angel nodded. “It would keep them busy and working on a solvable problem which would be good for morale.”
Mason stared at Angel for a moment. Then he nodded. “See to it.”
“Yes, sir,” Angel said and walked off.
On his return to his cabin, Mason slammed a fist into the wall. His hands shook as he strove to regain control of his emotions. After several minutes the shaking settled to a mild tremble.
“I’ve got to get a grip,” he said to himself.
Snapping at Angel without cause. Growling at everyone else. Mason realized that he had to regain control of his temper. He held command and he could not let the others see any flaw. Even a short war would have Lunaville’s personnel on edge and he had to set an example. And if the war lasted longer…. He thrust that thought to one side.
Mason stared into the mirror atop his small dresser for a long time, schooling his features into a look of calmness that he did not feel.
He opened the room’s small cupboard. Perhaps a drink would settle him down.

#

Schneider’s shoulders ached from hunching over his room’s computer workstation. Whenever the words on the screen blurred together, he paused for a quick rub at his eyes and continued.
Reports passed over the computer screen, reports of supplies, equipment, and personnel. Schneider’s commands copied excerpts of each report into his personal file. Slowly, he built a picture of O’Neill’s status.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Schneider jumped at the sound of Marie’s voice; he had not heard the door open.
“Marie,” he said, looking up, “this work has got to be done.”
“Of course it does,” Marie said, “and there are plenty of people doing it.” She sighed. “All of them are more familiar with the system here, with the information in the system, and with the results they’re likely to get. You’re just duplicating their work and not doing as good a job of it.”
After a moment, Schneider nodded and shut off the computer. “You’re right. I was just going crazy with nothing to do.”
“Gods, how do you think I feel?” Marie circled the table to reach Schneider’s side. She pulled him from the chair, over to the couch, and down beside her. “It seems that all I am here is another mouth using up food stores and contributing nothing in return.”
Schneider said nothing, he just put an arm across Marie’s shoulders, as much reassured as reassuring with the contact. “Don’t ever think you’re not important. Without you, I think I’d dry up and blow away.”
Marie leaned her head against his shoulder. “Clown.”
Sitting on the couch with Marie sufficed to drive the tension out of Schneider’s shoulders and back.
“When I talked to him yesterday,” Schneider said at last, “John told me he worried about his wife. I gave him a line about how Lincoln would see that she’s taken care of.”
Without looking down, he felt her nod against his shoulder. “You worried about the kids too?” Marie asked.
Schneider sighed. “Yes. I don’t know what’s happening. We’ve tried to call Mauna Loa, but so far they haven’t answered. From what we can see there doesn’t seem to be anything going on in Hawaii, nothing disastrous at least. I don’t know why Lincoln’s not answering and that scares me–right down to the bone.”
“Maybe there’s just a communications blackout.”
“Maybe,” Schneider said. “And maybe some terrorist bomb has leveled the port. Our security’s good but not invincible.”
“We’d have heard about that, surely.”
“How?” Schneider said. “Nobody’s talking to us. Nobody at all. The trouble is, I don’t know, and even if I did I couldn’t do anything about it. I don’t like that.”
Marie pushed herself upright. “So you drive yourself into doing things you can. Even things that others can do better and faster.”
Schneider nodded. “That’s about it, I guess. Just a driven nut case.”
A smile flickered across Marie’s face. “Then that makes two of you.”
“Two?”
The smile returned. “That son of yours is down, unasked for and unwanted, doing an inventory of stores. He’s counting every box, every tin, and every packet of supplies. Some of the clerks wanted to eject him but Julia vetoed that; I think she understands the Schneider genes.”
Schneider managed a laugh. “And you? What have you been doing?”
“I may be an accountant but I’m handy with a computer,” she said. “I volunteered to do data entry but there’s no demand.” She shrugged.
“So have you found anything to do?”
“You won’t like it.”
Schneider waited.
Marie sighed. “The primary filters for the water recycling system need periodic cleaning. Normally they just expose them to vacuum which dries out the crud which can then be cracked off and sucked away. Now, however, we can’t afford to waste the water that way. That means they have to be scrubbed by hand.”
“’Primary filters’?” Schneider’s eyes snapped wide. “Marie, that’s the sewage system!”
Marie shrugged. “It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.”
Schneider sat silent, too stunned to answer then, a moment later, he burst out laughing.

The Land of Second Chances

Snippet to come later today.  For now this blast from the past:

One of the thing I like best about the US is that, more than just about anyplace else in the world, it’s the land of second/third/fourth/morth chances.  The ability to say “I screwed, up, but I can still make things better” and have that mean something is quintessentially American.

It makes sense, in a way.  So many people originally came to America because they were looking for a second chance.  For one reason or another things weren’t working for them “back home” so they came here for a new start in a new home.  This whole “try again” attitude permeates American culture.  It did, anyway.  Lately it seems to be falling by the wayside.

My own life has been driven by a series of bad choices made on my part and new chances to make better choices.

In High School I never learned to study.  I didn’t need to to “get by” and simple unstructured reading in subjects that interested me was enough to get me “good enough” grades in most of my classes.  But I never learned the discipline of sitting down and studying a particular subject, even one that didn’t particularly interest me at the time, until I’d mastered it.  Bad choice on my part.  Also in High School I never took the time to seriously look for work.  Whether I found it or not, I needed to be looking for it..  This resulted in my having very poor work habits by the time I graduated from school.

But the real bad choice I made in that era was only applying for one college.  It was a religious school, run by the religion I was practicing at the time.  When the local clerical leader essentially vetoed my application (because I wore my hair too long–it touched my ears) I had nowhere else to go.

So I went with “second chance” number one.  I joined the military.  Here I made yet another bad decision.  I originally planned to go into electronics, take whichever job had the longest school (thereby getting as much electronics training as possible), and parlay that into college afterwards.  I let the recruiter talk me into switching to another field.  I would prove remarkably unsuited to that field (thus making a military career out of the question) and it was also almost completely devoid of civilian application so I couldn’t turn military training into a decent civilian job.

Still, I could have put my time in the military to good use.  The military was willing to pay 75% of tuition costs in accredited colleges while served.  Also, the “GI Bill” of the day was voluntary—save up to $2700 for college and the government would match it 2:1.  Bad decision on my part was to not take advantage of either of these.  The only “college” I got from my military tour was from my technical training itself.

So, as the end of my enlistment neared, I got to “second chance” number two.  I applied to college again, several colleges this time.  Each of these colleges, however, required recommendations from high school teachers.  I sent the proper forms back home, to my mother, with lists of teachers to contact.  Once again I made the bad decision of putting my future in the hands of one person . . . who failed me.  She never forwarded the forms.

On returning from the military with no job prospects and no college, I ended up in some menial jobs–bussing tables, washing dishes, that sort of thing–and I got to second chance number three.  I tried again to get into college.  Money was tight even for application fees so I applied to only one college, the state university.  I hand carried the forms to the college, met with various people at the college, and got accepted.  The proposed financial aid package would cover my need and all would be well except . . . bad decision:  I had been spending my money, even at the menial job, as fast as it had been coming in.  I had been working at a resort in Virginia at the time (my State of Residence was Ohio).  The job came with a room and cheap meals.  If I had sucked it in for just one summer–banked my paychecks and lived simply for just one summer all would have been well.  But I didn’t think I needed to.  I had the financial aid package that would cover college, including room and board, so I thought everything would be fine and did not plan for the unexpected.  Naturally, something unexpected happened.  I would not receive part of the financial aid until halfway through the semester.  However, the housing arrangements required payment up front.  No one would grant me a short term loan to cover the gap between needing the money and getting the money.  So no college for me that year.

So I went back to menial work yet again, falling deeper into depression.  That’s when I took second chance number four.  My mother had returned to school in Akron and, when the resort job had ended (they closed for the winter) I moved back there.  I was unemployed, selling plasma for cash, and was walking with a cane because of problems with my knees (since improved).  The knee problem, which meant I couldn’t stand on my feet for long at a time, even prevented me from taking most menial jobs.  I was so depressed that I had largely stopped trying but my mother (whose financial situation as a college student was little better than mine) said she would front the application fee if I would just apply at the local university.  I did.  This time I was accepted.  I found housing I could afford based on the financial aid I would actually be receiving.  I entered the University of Akron majoring in physics.

While I was at school, I learned to study.  I learned to talk to people who actually worked in industry about what I needed to be able to get a job and to act on what they said so that when I graduated I would be able to get a good job.  I then acted on that and got the job.  Once I had the job, I got married.  Once I’d been stably employed for a couple of years I then went looking for a house, one I could afford (even though lenders were urging me to take more based on the “ratios” I had at the time) and would be able to continue paying for even if things took a “downturn” down the road.

I’d like to say that I’ve stopped making bad decisions but it would be a lie.  I still make them.  But when I make them, I have to realize that they are my decisions and it’s up to me to make them right.  I cannot rely on other people to make them for me.  They have their own interests at heart and if they also have mine it’s happy chance, not something on which to count.  My choices are my responsibility.  I can take advice or leave it but in the end it’s my choice.

And so I continue to be employed.  I have a wife and family.  I have a house that is not in imminent danger of foreclosure.  And I did it despite the very many bad decisions I made along the way.  And I did it by recognizing that the bad decisions were bad decisions, that they were my bad decisions not anyone else’s, and that I needed to make better decisions if I wanted to move ahead.

***

Everyone likes a “second chance”.  And second chances feature strongly in the second story in my short collection:  FTI:  Beginnings