Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Learning Curve, 8 of 12

            8. Undertaker Overtaken

            Starbase Gandalf, Starbase Gandalf on moon Gollum, this is Lieutenant Redshirt of the SS Undertaker, lasering in report of second Multivac, planet 5, fly-by recon.
            My trajectory took me past moons Harlan, Robert and Arthur. Recon showed 13 ice mining operations on Harlan; also normal civilian activity around Podkayne and Rama colonies.
            My craft flew 10,000 kilometers above mighty Multivac’s cloud-tops. The Big Brown Spot, twice as wide as Rosie, swirled majestically underneath me as I passed over.
            No enemy activity detected.
            Redshirt out.
                                                            #          #          #

            What we must wonder is why the replicator was the first piece of newly-conceived, original technology invented in our nearly two thousand years of history.  What flaw was there in our culture's basic assumptions that inhibited original thinking for so long?
            Why, for example, do we remain politically locked into the old triad of Outer Crew/Republic, Inner Crew/Empire, and Passenger/Anarchy eternally battling each other, despite the obvious shortcomings of all three?  Republics are plagued with bureaucracy, Anarchies with betrayal, and Empires with both bureaucracy and betrayal.  Surely there must be a better system than these.  Why in all these centuries haven't we settled the question of government permanently?  What cultural cataclysm will it take to give us a new perspective and a new structure?
                                                            #          #          #
            The starship Undertaker was in Crowley orbit, within the Ring’s Beta gap. Captain Kinndur and First Mate Drudge were in the Captain’s ready room, discussing  Lieutenant Redshirt’s reprimand.
            “I can’t get it off the record, sir; the computers insist on keeping it.”
            Kinndur said, “Starfleet bureaucracy,” and he shook his head. “Automating middle management was supposed to prevent these glitches!”
            Drudge said, “Well, the robot officers are more honest than the human ones were, but a lot more rule-bound. They insist that he spend time in solitary confinement.”
            “For the crime of bringing us back to life!”
            “Fortunately, they’ll accept his present assignment as solitary confinement; so by the time he reaches Rosie, they’ll let him off with time served.”
            Kinndur said, “Good, I like happy endings. But what is it about technology? It always has some kind of surprise built in! Some annoying catch, some joke reversal!”
            “I suppose that’s part of the perversity of the cosmos, sir.”
            “Speaking of technology… let’s look over those field replicator schematics.”
            Drudge pressed a button on the console; the holo displayed an image of the Mark 3.1 Field Replicator. “Latest surveillance at the Wizard’s Bastard caught this.”
            “Three point one? So this is Randy’s revision?”
            “Yessir. Underwood debugged 3.0’s interface and security glitches.”
            “Nechaev and Underwood, what a team,” Kinndur said. “Would their bosses approve?”
            “They’ll use the technology, whether or not they approve.”
            “I take it, Number One, that you don’t approve?”
            “Replication is disruptive, sir. It came out of nowhere, appearing suddenly in dozens of marginal social groups; pirates, mercenaries, cultists, circus troupes, hoboes, rebels…”
            “And the Imperial Forces. And us.
            “We had to adopt the technology, sir, just to keep up! Replication has set off inflation, arms races, and rebellions. And now people are replicating themselves. It undermines market, state, and church. Who knows where this’ll end?”
            Kinndur said, “Starfleet would have ordered me to suppress it, but I can’t and it’s just as well.” He smiled at the Field Replicator schematic in the holo. "That’s a sweet machine."
            Drudge said, “I am wary, sir, of anything involving Dr. Nechaev.”
            Kinndur said, “You don’t trust him.”
            “He knows that we’re spying on him,” said Drudge. “I’m sure of it.”
            “I respect your intuition, Number One. What about Underwood?”
            “I’m not sure about him,” said Drudge. “Maybe he doesn’t know; or he knows and doesn’t care. But Nechaev, that’s the one to watch out for. He’s trying to trick us.”
            Captain Kinndur said, “Do you think these blueprints are booby-trapped?”
            "He’s playing a deep game, sir. And we’re just one of the pieces." Drudge said. “So I strongly advise, sir, that we test this replicator’s safety and utility.”
            “A field test, then.”
            “An isolated field test, sir. With the ship far away.”
            Captain Kinndur looked over the nav charts. “Ring moonlet Zappa is only 23 kiloseconds away at medium thrust. We could leave a crewmember there, with one of these in hand, retire to a safe distance, then return in, say, a hundred kiloseconds to check on progress.”
            Drudge said, “I volunteer Ensign Poindexter. And I recommend that we leave him with only ten kiloseconds of air.” He paused. “After scanning him,  of course.”
            “Ah, you want to test the Cadet as well!” said Kinndur.
            Drudge said, “I’ve had my eye on him, sir.”
            “Then be it so,” Captain Kinndur decreed. Then he smiled and said, “This may be the Undertaker’s most enterprising undertaking yet!”

                                                            #          #          #

            When Captain John Claudius Kinndur says, be it so, why then so be it! Therefore Ensign Irving Nimrod Poindexter reported to the dorsal rear airlock 23 kiloseconds later. There he was scanned, then given a field replicator and a spacesuit with ten kiloseconds of air. He donned the spacesuit and picked up the replicator; then he was expelled out the dorsal rear access port, and was left behind on ring-moonlet Zappa.
            84 kiloseconds – that’s one Rosie day – later, the Undertaker received a radio signal. “Calling Starship Undertaker, calling Starship Undertaker, come in please!”
            Drudge said, “This is Starship Undertaker, identify yourself!”
            “This is Ensign Poindexter! Of the Starship Undertaker! Now on board the ah, um…”
            “On board the what, Ensign?”
            “Well… on board the Starship Undertaker. If you want it, that is.”
            What?” Drudge magnified the image on the forward screen. That ship looked like the Undertaker, all right, except for being just a little bit… sleeker.
            “This copy has a few technical upgrades,” said Ensign Poindexter. “I hope you like it.”
            “The Captain will hear about this,” Drudge growled.
            When the Captain came to the bridge, he was visibly impressed.
            Kinndur said, “You say the Ensign flew this to us?”
            Drudge said, “After making it himself, sir.”
            “From the field replicator?”
            “Plus a few records of his own.”  Drudge inhaled hugely. “It seems that he has, in the course of his duties, been within 10 meters of every atom of the ship, with scan crystal on hi-rez.”
            “He recorded the whole ship? On what authorization?”
            “He claims that he was following my orders.”
            “Was he?”
            “According to him, I said, quote, ensign if you are going to be that careless then you’d better have a scan crystal on, at hi-rez, at all times, unquote.”
            Did you say that, Number One?”
            “I probably did,” Drudge admitted.
            “Then you are keeping an eye on him. Continue.”
            “So, he took that as an order and obeyed; so now he has the entire ship recorded on a data crystal, which he took along for the field test.”
            “Which I call a complete success.”
            “So you approve of the field replicator?”
            “Absolutely! It got the Ensign back to us, riding a ship of his own!    which we must inspect immediately, Number One.”
            Drudge and Kinndur left the ready room and took their stations at the bridge; the Captain in the Captain’s chair, Drudge at his right hand.
            Drudge said, “Starship Undertaker to replica Undertaker, stand by for docking!”
            On the radio, Ensign Poindexter said, “Standing by, sir!”
            Kinndur said, “I’ll take her in, Number One.”
            Captain Kinndur pushed some buttons on the arm of the Captain’s chair, then grabbed the joystick and said, “Initiating ventral-to-posterior approach vector.”
            The Undertaker approached its replica from above and behind. It extended magnetic clamps; they attached with a clang. After a few moments of swaying the ships settled into ventral-posterior coupling configuration.
            Captain Kinndur said, “Open ventral rear access port.”
            Poindexter said, “Ventral rear access port wide open, sir!”
            Captain Kinndur said, “Extending docking tube.”
            The Undertaker’s docking tube extended itself, telescoping out section by section. It inserted itself into the replica ship’s ventral rear access tunnel.
            “Penetration accomplished,” said the Captain. “Engage tunnel clamp.”
            “Access tunnel has clamped firm, sir!”
            “Dilate orifice.”
            “Orifice dilated, sir! Docking complete!”
            They all heaved a sigh. There’s always something satisfying about a good docking.
            There was, of course, no artificial gravity in the middle stretch of the docking tube; so Kinndur and Drudge swam down its length. They flew through the orifice feet first, and landed standing up. Ensign Poindexter saluted them.
            Kinndur said, “You say that you made some upgrades, Ensign?”
            “A few badly-needed fixes and improvements?”
            “Then you must show me.”
            So Ensign Irving Poindexter led Captain John Kinndur and First Mate Horatio Drudge on a tour through the new and improved Undertaker.
            He showed them the airlocks and pressure suits placed at regular intervals on all corridors. He showed them the seatbelts on the chairs. He showed them the back-up copies of all critical data and software, stored off-line. He reported that the computer had a clock rate of a petahertz, and was programmed in assembler.
            Kinndur said, “Good! Important calculations will take microseconds, not kiloseconds!”
            Ensign Poindexter showed them banks of surge protectors and circuit breakers. “Think of it, Captain! No more showers of sparks on the bridge!”
            “Yes,” said Captain Kinndur, “these ‘surge protectors’ are indeed a revolutionary innovation. How have we managed without them for all these years?”
            Poindexter showed them the Zapruder Drive. “It’s in the room where the holodeck used to be. I deleted the holodeck, sir, in obedience to your standing order.”
            “ ‘Any technology that chronically malfunctions will be removed from my ship’,” Kinndur quoted himself.
            “It’s about time that we got rid of that thing!” Drudge said. “We don’t need a holodeck!”
            Kinndur nodded sagely. “Anyone who cannot be entertained by books, music, and a deck of cards has no place on board my ship. Now tell me, Ensign, what is this Zapruder Drive?”
            Poindexter said, “It’s a reactionless impulse engine.”
            Drudge snapped, “Reactionless?!”
            “It’s based on the Zapruder Effect, sir,” said the Ensign as he led them into the Zapruder Drive Chamber. “Here’s the kennadehed,” he said, patting the block of wood on a pedestal at the center of the room, “and there’s the oswald,” pointing to the machine gun mounted on the wall, pointed at the kennadehed. “And all around are the projectors,” he said, waving his arms.
            Drudge said, “Just how does this absurd contraption work?”
            “Simple, really, sir. The oswald fires a stream of bullets at the kennadehed; gunfire recoil moves the ship. And when the bullets hit the kennadehed, it recoils towards the oswald, of course, and that too moves the ship.”
            “Did I hear you correctly?” Drudge snapped. “The kennadehed recoils towards the oswald? Not away, in the direction of the bullet? Ensign, have you forgotten the conservation of momentum? How do you propose to explain this blatant violation of the laws of physics?!
            “Well, er, um, uh, you see…”
            Yes, Ensign?”
            “Well, it’s, it’s, it’s the charisma! The charisma projectors!” He waved his arms around, at the banks of video cameras, covering walls and ceiling, all pointed at the kennadehed, as was the oswald. “They project charisma onto the kennadehed!  And that’s why the kennadehed recoils in reverse!  Once it reaches a charisma level of 18!”
            “That is correct, Ensign,” Drudge said. “And this is due to which physical law?”
            Irving Poindexter recited, “Warren’s Law: Charisma level 18 reverses impact momentum. Also known as the Zapruder Effect. It’s the first axiom of Magic Bullet Theory.“
            “That is correct, Ensign.”
            “Zapruder observed the effect, and Warren formulated the theory.”
            “That will do, Ensign.”
                                                            #          #          #
            Next up was the bridge. The Captain’s face lit up when he saw the Captain’s chair. “Two joysticks!” He plunked into the chair and grabbed both joysticks. “Ergonomic! Good!” He clicked both triggers. “Good action.”
            Poindexter said, “Try the cupholder, sir.”
            The Captain pushed a button, and the cupholder slid smoothly out. “It doesn’t stick!”
            “The cupholder has a small replicator built in, sir, programmed for beverages.”
            “Really? Hmm… oh, I see, here’s the control…” He pushed a button and ordered, “One cup, double espresso, extra sugar, hot!”
            A paper cup with a sippy-top lid materialized in the cupholder.
            Kinndur took a sip. “Yes…” He took another sip, and said, “All right, then.” He set the drink down in the cupholder. “Number One?”
            Drudge said, “Yessir?”
            “Issue orders to the crew. They are all to abandon ship and occupy this vessel. Ensign, did you record supplies, personal effects and valuable equipment?”
            “I scanned every atom on the ship, sir.”
            “Then the crew is to take only the clothes on their back. Once roll is called and all stations report on duty, we will disengage from the old ship, and this,” he slapped the arm of his chair, “will be the new Undertaker.”
            Drudge said, “And the old Undertaker, sir?”
            Kinndur frowned. He said, “We must … decommission it. Be it so!
            “So be it, sir,” Drudge said quietly, and withdrew.

                                                            #          #          #

            While Kinndur brooded in the Captain’s chair, sipping his espresso, Drudge got people moving. Five kiloseconds later the crew was all aboard the new craft. Drudge approached the Captain and said, “Roll is called, and all stations report on duty.”
            Kinndur said, “Decouple the ships.”
            Drudge pressed a few buttons, and said, “Disengagement sequence commenced.”
            Down by the rear ventral airlock, the orifice closed and the access tunnel unclamped. The old ship’s docking tube telescoped back, section by section, out of the access tunnel and withdrew back to the other ship. The rear ventral access port shut. Magnetic clamps released.
            “Disengaged, sir.”
            Captain Kinndur finished his espresso, and put the cup into the cupholder. He pushed a button; the cup dematerialized with a ZWEENG, and the cupholder slid smoothly back into the chair. Kinndur said, “I’ll take her out, Number One,” and he clasped a joystick.
            The new Undertaker glided down and forward; then it smoothly turned and rose. It stopped, facing the old ship. Kinndur said to himself,  “Laser or antimatter?”
            Poindexter said, “We also have a graviton emitter, sir!”
            Graviton?  Kinndur pushed a button on the arm of his chair, looked at the small screen there, and said, “Yes, there it is.” He clicked ‘Graviton’ on the menu. Then he looked at the old Undertaker on the screen. He whispered, "I love you," and pulled the trigger.
            Drudge overheard him but pretended not to.
            The explosion was visible by amateur astronomers on Roseanne and Columbia.

            Captain Kinndur said cheerfully, “That was impressive. Gravitons, eh? I should use them again sometime. Ensign, set a course!”
            “For where, sir?”
            “For Starbase Prime at Kitchener, on planet Rosie.”
            “Course set, sir!”
            “Fire up the Zapruder Drive!”
            Behind them, within the ship, came the ratta-tatta-tatta of the Zapruder Drive. They leaned back in their seats under its acceleration.
            Drudge asked, “Kitchener, sir?”
            “Starfleet orders, Number One. There’s going to be… a little party there.”
            “Who’s invited, sir?”
            “We are. So are Malvolio’s forces. And Andover’s men. And Ertson’s flock. And a few others; pirates, mercs, the usual. All are going to Kitchener city center, all bearing ceremonial swords and functional blasters. It’ll be a peace parley, you understand.”
            “I see, sir. Will this be under a flag of truce?”
            “A truce, all right… but we’ll be prepared!” Kinndur said confidently. “Gravitons, eh?” He patted the arm of his chair. “Nothing could possibly go wrong!”
            Drudge said, reflexively, “Ensign, scan the ship!”
            Poindexter said, nervously, “Yessir!”

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