Author Topic: Chapter 14  (Read 7046 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 14
« on: July 21, 2022, 03:02:05 AM »
Chapter 14

Simon should have been nervous during his own presentation, but he was still thinking about everything Adam and John had said. He wished their presentation had been the last one, because who could follow that?

He did well anyway, at least according to the applause that he and Bez got. They were demonstrating a drone that they had built themselves. Bez constructed it, with Simon's aid, and Simon had programmed its second stage. He didn't know as much about electrical engineering as Bez, but he could help a little. They demonstrated its rolling function with a remote control, just like the old RC cars on Earth had been used. Though much bigger and slower, this drone also had a clamp to grab hold of things, like the school chair that Rhys was currently using.

Then it was Simon's turn, alone. He turned on the second stage, and looked up at the class. "For now, I'm telling it to get from this corner of the room to that other corner. Here we go." He input the instructions and then gave the drone its go-ahead.

The camera mounted on the drone reoriented itself to face directly forward, and the drone began rolling ahead. After only a few seconds it stopped. It didn't have tracks like the rollers outside, because wheels were both lighter and easier to build. Bez had complained about how hard it was to find enough rubber, though. The drone turned slightly, to avoid one of the chairs, and began moving again. Together, they watched the cycle repeat over and over as the drone moved, analyzed its new surroundings, and then moved again. In another few minutes, it had reached the far side of the room.

Simon grimaced. "I know it doesn't look like much, but think about how important it can be for us, here in New Eden. Noah's drones work almost exactly the same way, if much, much faster. I can tell this little guy to go anywhere, except through a closed door for now, and he'll do it on his own, without any more instructions."

"White Fang can do that, in like two seconds," Massimo said, just a hair short of being openly scornful.

White Fang was the planet's first dog, named after a character from a Jack London novel. They'd read his story, and Call of the Wild, last year. After reading those two, the boys had pretty much insisted that Noah get them a dog, and he had eventually agreed, on the condition that it would be entirely under their care. When the pup had been taken out of its incubator and finally stopped tripping all over its own feet, Massimo had kinda taken it under his wing. They all loved Fangie, but he'd been the one most responsible for the dog's care.

Simon tried to keep his tone even. "True, but Fangie, took what, two months to start running like he does now? And he was in that pod for two more even before that. With the right materials, Bez could build a drone like this in one day! And with the right programming, I could get it to build more just like it. Sure, dogs can make more dogs in time, but it takes a lot longer than that, and you can't really control the pups like you can the ones you've trained. Any drone that Noah builds is his, completely. Any drone that those drones build is also his. Right from the start. You see where I'm going with this?"

Looking a little more respectful at the possibilities, Massimo nodded at him, and Argent started clapping again. That was it for their own presentation, but Bez had to promise to let them use the remote control after class. And promise to make at least one more for them to race with.

Next up was Hippo, who took them to one of the other domes. Like the medlab back in the first settlement, this one was connected to Harmony with an umbilical, and sealed off with an airlock just in case. There hadn't been any contagious illnesses yet, but if there were, the sick would be quarantined in there.

Hippo demonstrated the different pods he and Noah were constructing, to expand New Eden's biodiversity. Bacteria, algae, and other microbes didn't need anything like these, but if they ever wanted to have any bigger animals, they'd need a different kind for each species. Rabbits had been the first, back when they were kids, but those rabbit kittens hadn't survived the evacuation. White Fang was after them, but he was a one-off for now. Dogs didn't have much use as an edible animal in their new world.

No, Hippo was focusing on chickens and pigs for now, with a ton of help from Noah. Building an artificial womb to develop the cell samples they'd brought from Earth was way, way beyond Hippo's abilities for now, but Simon was sure Noah would be fair in his grading. He didn't give praise if it wasn't warranted, and he didn't punish students for mistakes that they couldn't have avoided.

The tricky part, according to Hippo, was the chicken incubator. Since they weren't born but hatched, he and Noah had to come up with a disposable pod—one that the chick could survive in until it was old enough to push its way out. An artificial eggshell had been an impossibility back on Earth, but Hippo seemed determined to make it a reality here. If it worked, it could open up all manner of other birds to eventually fly outside the domes. The first one would be the hardest by far. If they could get a hen to grow up and start laying eggs, then they could use those eggs to clone the other chicken cell samples. Unfortunately insect eggs weren't useful in that process, so Hippo couldn't use the earlier success with silkworms to get up to birds.

That just left Tycho. He led the group back to Harmony's main dome, to the common area. Simon blinked with surprise upon re-entering the room. They'd been gone for a few hours now, but Tycho's telescope had been set up in the classroom now, along with a bunch of other equipment he didn't recognize. Tycho had been with them the whole time, so it must have been Noah who set this all up.

Tycho inspected it all quickly, and then turned to face the class. "We've all read the Bible stories about how long people used to live. Hundreds of years easily. Methuselah was pushing a thousand! I know that a year is longer here, but imagine what you could do with hundreds of years instead of just the eighty or so we all get normally? We're young, so it's hard to see what life will be like for us even ten or twenty years down the road. Still, we have a new planet here. Like the rest of you, I want to make that into an opportunity for a new kind of living."

He glanced up at the dome above them. The sun was nearly directly overhead by now, and Simon realized that he must have asked to go last for that very reason.

"The main reason we don't live as long as we used to is because of ultraviolet radiation," he pointed straight up. "Earth has a magnetosphere that protects from most UV, but a bunch still reaches the surface. Back before the flood, Earth also had a water vapor canopy that filtered out even more of it. That's why they used to live so long, at least until Noah saved the remaining species and brought them to safety." He paused at that. "The, uh, older Noah, I mean," he said after a moment, and some of the class smiled at that.

He gestured out the dome to the side. "Siagis is a little different. It's bigger than Earth's sun, and has more output. We're further away, so that helps, but our magnetosphere is also different. My project has been about studying Siagis' radiation, and trying to see how it'll affect the people who will be living here in New Eden."

Simon felt his eyebrows rise at that. Tycho was right—most of them hadn't put much thought into long-term life on New Eden. Adam and John had probably put the most into it, and that was just because of their own project.

Tycho pressed a control, and a projection popped up on the whiteboard. It was a calendar of sorts, in Earth years. "Noah built Harmony with special panels in the dome to protect us from most radiation from Siagis. We spend most of our time in the domes for now, but we won't always. As more and more crops are planted outside, we'll need people to tend them, and then eventually harvest them. As more domes are built, and more people are born here, we'll need to connect them to each other and get between them, just like people do on Earth. I estimated that people will spend about an hour a day outside of domes, even twenty years from now. Everyone will have at least one breather, and use it every day. Life outside the domes will become normal, and everyone will expect that.

"But what will that do to our bodies? Noah's only had a few years of data on this star so far, but I figured I could help in a different way." He beckoned to Massimo, who pulled a fresh apple out of his pocket and handed it over.

Tycho lifted it up. "I asked Massimo to pick this fresh from his garden, so you can see it all pristine like this." He placed it into one of the machines next to his telescope. "Everyone look closely. This won't be like that timelapse that Turin showed us, but I think it'll be cool just the same. This machine is a radiation projector. Bez helped me assemble it, but I set the conditions myself. I set up the machine to use all the same radiation that Siagis hits us with, day by day. Assume that this apple is one of us, and that it spends only one hour a day outside of one of the domes. This," he pressed another control, "is what'll happen to it after just one year here."

The machine hummed to life, and the apple inside it started to sizzle. Its smooth green skin wrinkled and shriveled, and the fruit itself seemed to shrink. Simon recognized dehydration from his other classes. The water in it was being boiled away. Well, not boiled exactly. Evaporated anyway, though.

After only ten seconds or so, the machine turned itself off. The apple inside was a desiccated husk now, barely retaining the same shape of the sumptuous fruit it had once been.

Tycho let the class observe it in shocked silence for a few moments before speaking. "Don't worry, the radiation is line-of-sight. Only the apple was affected; we're all safe in here. There was a saying on Earth, though. 'If you put a frog into boiling water, it'll jump right out. If you put a frog into lukewarm water, and then slowly heat it up until it's boiling, the frog will stay put.' This apple is the first one. Our lives outside will be the second one. New Eden's magnetosphere just isn't strong enough to protect us like the one back on Earth.

"That said, there are ways we can protect ourselves. Sunblock is one way, but it's only partially effective. No, what I've got planned is a bit more far-reaching." He moved over to another machine. "Some of you might know this from astronomy class. Since only an idiot would look right up at the sun, even during an eclipse, we use pinholes to see it represented on paper."

Simon remembered this. Just the previous year, there had been a solar eclipse, of sorts. Abednego had passed right between New Eden and Siagis, and had blocked part of the sun for almost an hour. It was smaller than Earth's moon, but it was still a striking thing for them to see. They'd used pinholes to watch it safely without harming their eyes.

Tycho carefully arranged the pinhole currently, and then pointed to it. The whole class could see an obstruction of some kind move into the path of the sun. Some of them even looked up, and Tycho just gave them scathing looks. "That's the Mary. Noah told me its orbit would be passing by at about this time. It's a lot smaller than it was when we were little, because it keeps on sending down modules for Noah to use, but it's still up there, and it got me thinking. Why not build our own canopy? Not enough for the whole planet, obviously. New Eden is huge, and Siagis is much, much larger. No, I'm thinking something just big enough to be an umbrella for, say Harmony, and the five or ten kilometers in every direction around it. This canopy would just sit up there in space, covering us and protecting us. It would let sunlight through, so plants can grow, but reflect most of the harmful stuff back into space. New Eden's magnetosphere could handle the rest."

He looked around at the group expectantly, and Simon eventually raised a hand. "Wouldn't this canopy have to be twenty kilometers across, at least? How could you build something that big, and then get it up there?"

Tycho grinned. "Easy. Noah's already done it once." He waited again, and then shook his head when no one spoke up. "The solar sails! That's how we set up this umbrella of ours. He spent decades in deep space with a ton of extended solar sails, absorbing light to keep him powered, and using that light to keep him moving! We just do something similar. We launch a ship up there, compact like the Mary was, and loaded with materials like Noah used to build the domes. Then it'll fly into place and deploy itself. This won't happen anytime soon, obviously," he admitted quickly. "This probably won't even happen during our lifetimes. But it could happen eventually, and that's the whole point. Entire cities protected, with people living hundreds of years longer because of it!"

Simon wasn't sure what to think of that. It sounded good, of course, but Tycho was a bit of a dreamer. "How would you keep it protecting one place on the planet, as New Eden spins?" He put in, a little skeptically.

"With this," Tycho turned to his last machine. "This is a ranging laser that Noah built for me to do astronomical calculations. I figured, the best way to keep this solar umbrella right above our heads is to keep it in laser contact with the surface every day. When New Eden spins from night into day, the lasers will be within line of sight to the umbrella, and tell it where we are. Then, the umbrella will be programmed to keep moving, to keep within laser line of sight, until our day is done. That way we're protected every day."

Adam cocked his head slightly. "Wouldn't it need fuel to keep moving around like that? The reason Noah came here with solar sails was because the Cradle knew he'd never have enough fuel to make it here the old-fashioned way."

"You're right. It would need to be repositioned, and that means it would burn a lot of fuel. We'd have to send fuel up to it to keep it going. Either that, or design a whole new way of moving through space. From what Noah told me, using solar sails to move it won't get it going fast enough, or allow it to change direction often enough to keep up. They're good for long-distance journeys only."

Again, Simon was impressed at the ingenuity of the idea. His drone demonstration seemed small-time now, compared to most of the others. Hopefully Noah wouldn't think the same.

Tycho answered a few more questions from the class, before taking a bow and returning to his seat. Noah's drone stepped up to take his place. "Well done, everyone. I must say, I anticipated some good work here, but one and all, you've gone beyond my expectations. You've all done excellently, and you should feel pride at that."

He didn't let them start clapping or anything, though. "I want you to know that compared to Earth's children at your age, you're all well ahead of them academically, emotionally, and socially. You've had burdens on your shoulders that most of them wouldn't understand, or be able to handle. That's partially because of how driven you are, but it's mostly because I've pushed you, hard, for a long time now."

That was certainly true. Between his normal classes, his programming, and his conversations with Diana, Simon had been going to bed exhausted for a long time, and waking up wishing he could stay in bed longer. He could tell the others felt the same way. Pride was turning into resentment, though they knew that Noah was only looking out for their best interests in his own way.

"You're the first generation of men on this planet. The reason I've pushed you so hard, and encouraged you to branch out into many disciplines, is because your examples will set the trend for every generation that follows! Even your own siblings, just a few years younger than you, are already following in your footsteps. Your expertise in agriculture, medicine, politics, faith, engineering, economics, and so much more, will echo on well past your lives. That's why I've been documenting all of this, so that future generations will know how dedicated you all are, and how much work you've been putting into ensuring that this planet will be a thriving paradise for them! Well done, everyone. Well done." He started clapping, metal and plastic on metal and plastic.

The class joined in, looking at each other with a warm pride and camaraderie, and even Simon was swept up in it. He just wished Diana could have been here. She would have done a pretty great presentation herself; he was sure. Probably something like taking them all skydiving to demonstrate aerodynamics, or demonstrating zero gravity by having a plane drop like a stone.

-.-

With the conclusion of their presentations, Noah gave them all a well-deserved break. They had several weeks to themselves, before classes started up again in a limited form. When asked why the break was so short, Noah had explained that on Earth, students had been given almost the entire summer during their schooling, year after year. It had actually slowed their academic progress, being nicknamed the Summer Slide. While overworking students was also bad for their progress, the best way seemed to be taking more breaks during the year, but shorter ones.

Simon wasn't complaining. Barely a week after the presentations, he was in the closet that he'd convinced Noah to let him use. He'd repurposed it almost entirely, starting by building a chair much like the pilot's chair in the shuttle outside. That hadn't been easy, but it was still just step one.

The monitors were easy enough to set up, but arranging the dials and controls to interface them had taken some effort. He wished he was as good at this as Bez. He was nearing completion of the project one night, when the door opened suddenly. He flinched, expecting to see Adam, but it was Argent in the door. "There you are!"

"Get in and close the door," Simon insisted. When 'Gent hesitated, he stood and grabbed him, doing it all himself. "What are you doing here??"

"I could ask you the same," 'Gent said distractedly, looking around at his handiwork. "Is that... the pilot's chair from the shuttle?" His eyes widened. "What is this?"

"It's a flight simulator. For... me," Simon lied quickly. Argent might be willing to keep his secret about the trackers, but there was no way he'd keep one about a girl learning how to fly.

"Seriously? The last time you were on one of Noah's planes, you looked like you wanted to hurl."

"And I did, once we landed," Simon admitted. "Noah said that we have to learn how to face our fears, and this is mine. He printed out a pilot's manual for me, and gave me permission to use this room to practice. I don't get sick if I'm on the ground, so maybe if I know what I'm doing in the air, I won't get sick there, either."

He reflected on how easy it was to lie, as long he could mix it with some truth. After all, he did have Noah's permission to do this. 'Gent's eyes surveyed the whole setup slowly, and he shook his head. "Your funeral, man. I might be ok being in a plane, but I'd never try to fly one. Still, good for you if you can pull it off."

Simon stretched, but the dimensions of the room prevented him from getting much space. "How did you even know I was in here? No one's supposed to know about this place. I asked Noah not to tell anyone and he agreed."

'Gent scoffed. "Come on, Simon. My normal customers are one thing, but you're something special. Did you really think I wouldn't keep tabs on you? Now, are we good to go?"

Grimacing, Simon nodded. "I set both our trackers to go on the 'unimportant' list. It happened a few minutes ago, and it should stay that for about two hours. Did Bez tell you how to get through an airlock without attracting attention?" He had no idea what 'Gent wanted to steal, or acquire, as he put it, but he didn't care that much. He couldn't really refuse to help, not with what 'Gent knew about him. At least he still thought that Simon and Diana were romantically connected. As long as he continued to believe that, they'd be ok.

'Gent cracked the door open to look outside. This late at night, there was probably nobody up, but he nodded and then led the way out. Simon shut off the light on his way out, and then locked the door. He should have locked it before, come to think of it. He'd have to find a safe place to hide the key, and then tell Diana where to find it.

"I've got the airlock handled; don't worry," 'Gent assured him. "Come on."

There were a couple of the guys in the common room, but they didn't pay much mind as Simon and 'Gent made their way towards the outer layer of Harmony's dome. Once they reached the airlock, 'Gent told him to keep watch, while he got to work on the alarm system.

Every night at ten pm, Noah put the airlocks on restricted use. Only Tycho had permission to go out, and then only so that he could use the external telescope for his observations. It was more powerful than the one he'd shown them in the classroom, and he didn't have to worry about the dome's surface interfering with its readings. Still, just because Tycho was the only one allowed, didn't mean he was the only one who did it. 'Gent claimed that he'd been visiting his greenhouse after hours for a while now, though Simon was pretty sure he was just making it up.

All the same, whatever he was after tonight was important enough for him to ask Bez for help. The more engineering-savvy brother had apparently given him a few lessons, and it showed. The inner airlock door opened with a hiss, and none of the caretaker drones showed up to stop them. Giving Simon a triumphant look, 'Gent slipped them both inside and closed the door.

Simon fitted his breather nervously. He knew they were going to the module landing site north of Harmony, but he didn't know exactly why. 'Gent had been tight-lipped about it, but he promised it would be worth it in the long run.

Shadrach had risen outside the dome, reflecting brilliantly down on them, and Simon winced. They had no cover at all. No people were out here, but any drones would be able to spot them easily. Still, 'Gent had picked the right day for it. Harvest had come up north, so most of Noah's drones were out working in those fields. They raced across the open ground towards the landing site.

Multiple modules had landed over the years, but there were still several dozen up there in orbit. The ones down here had been connected up again, as a sort of makeshift warehouse which drew power from their own power grid. Noah had built freezers on the ground and installed them in the modules to keep the samples cold as soon as they came down. That way he could take his time defrosting them as needed. The upside was that it meant there was no security other than the locked hatch, which 'Gent could get through.

The downside was that the interior of the module was freezing! Simon wrapped his arms around his chest tightly, wishing he'd brought a heavier coat. At least they were out of sight in here. Seemingly oblivious to the cold, 'Gent grinned and looked around. "We're looking for sample K700824," he said confidently, moving up to one of the computer terminals. "It should be... down here to the left."

Simon followed him mutely as they made their way down the frozen hall of the module. It was hard for him to imagine, really, just how far this container had travelled. These walls had been formed on Earth, for God's sake! Sure, they all thought of Earth as their original home, but none of them would ever actually get to see it for themselves. It was an unimaginable distance away, and Noah had done the unimaginable getting them here.

"Come on," 'Gent urged him, and Simon snapped out of it for a bit. They were going to the seed vault section, so whatever he was after was of the plant variety. It made sense, given his day job. As they got further away from the console's lighting, they both turned on flashlights to see the way.

Simon's breathing was starting to get harder when they found the section in question. 'Gent went to one of the terminals and typed in the sample number. One of the automated arms whirred into motion, breaking the ice encasing it, and reached up into the stacks of samples. As it did its work, 'Gent pulled out a pair of heavy gloves and put them on. He also tossed a pair to Simon. "I'll need your hands, too. These are just to keep you from getting frostbite."

The arm returned with a sealed metal container, which it deposited on the ground right in front of them. Grinning again, 'Gent opened it up. It was packed with seeds, from the same species obviously, but Simon didn't recognize them. He had a little experience with agriculture, as they all did, but these were new. Or old, depending on how you looked at it.

After grabbing a double handful and getting Simon to do the same, 'Gent closed the box with his feet and hit the control panel again. He stepped back as the arm retrieved the box and put it back where it had been. Simon wanted to ask him right then and there, but his teeth were chattering now, and he could see 'Gent wasn't much better off.

Getting out was much faster, thankfully, though closing up the module again was tricky with the number of seeds they were carrying. Simon wished that they had some of those plastic bags he'd seen in the movies, but they had no use for them in normal life, and therefore asking Noah to make some would have been suspicious. At least it was only normal cold out here, instead of cryo-freeze cold.

Strangely, 'Gent led him south, instead of back to Harmony. They were going to his and Massimo's greenhouse instead of home. Of course. He wouldn't want to store these seeds inside the main dome where someone might find them. This dome's airlock had just a keypad for security, which of course 'Gent knew the code to. Again, after some awkward typing, they were inside the much warmer space.

"Ok, we're out. Are you going to tell me what all this is about, finally?" Simon said impatiently. If it weren't for the gloves, his hands definitely would be frozen from the seeds he was carrying.

"Have you heard of Cannabis sativa?" Simon shook his head slowly, so 'Gent continued. "It's also called marijuana. There's nothing in the Faith database about it, but there are some references in the historical database. I asked Hippo about it, and it was in the medical files too. It was a plant grown on Earth, known for being a painkiller."

None of this was making sense. Medical problems were Noah's area of expertise, and eventually they'd be Hippo's, not 'Gent's. "Why would you want a painkiller for your commissary?"

'Gent extended a bucket, and Simon gratefully dumped his cargo into it. He could see a space that had been carved out from behind the cornstalks, apparently just for this 'marijuana' plant to be grown. "Oh, it's not going in the commissary. At least not the normal part of it." He placed the bucket down, watching the steam come up from it as the warm air of the greenhouse interacted with the deep chill of the seeds.

Now that they were in a more relaxed setting, he seemed to feel more at ease. Smiling, he took a seat on an overturned bucket, and gestured for Simon to do the same. "You've looked at the historical database as much as anyone else. Tell me, why do you think so much of it is missing?"

Simon shook his head. "Noah told us. He took damage on the trip over here, and most of it was corrupted. Only scraps are left, like what Adam and John showed in their presentation."

"Yeah, but those scraps are very, very specific. The bad things about Earth and what caused them. I only found a slight reference to marijuana there, but I've got an instinct about these things. Why would a database mention a general painkiller in a segment about political activism? I also found references to something called psilocybin, but it's a mushroom, and they can't be grown here very easily. There was something called Viagra, too, but apparently it's medicine for heart failure. Why would all of these medicines be so important politically?"

That did seem unusual, but not impossible. "Maybe they were errors. Data fragmentation might have mixed up information from the medical and historical databases."

'Gent nodded. "Could be, but I think it's more likely that this stuff was one of those things that the Americans disagreed on. Some people wanted it, and some people wanted to get rid of it. And since it's something that I can grow, and sell, I'm really looking forward to finding out why."

Simon could only chuckle. He'd done all of this, roped Simon in to help him, learned how to bypass airlock security, all because of a hunch? "Hey, like you said back in my simulator. Good for you if you can make it work."
« Last Edit: July 21, 2022, 03:10:26 AM by Daen »