Tag Archives: 30 Cubed

30 Cubed – The Analyst

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Fixing it. Sometimes the lure of a chance to, well, do it over and do it right is intoxicating. The human curiosity of how we might make the math come alive in the “real” world taunts us. Surely the math can’t lie. If time has no arrow in the equations, then why do we still see an arrow?

Given the current state of affairs in my life, time travel was beginning to look more than desirable; it was looking downright necessary. My job was out the window, my wife had shown me the door, and most of the friends I had were avoiding me in case I was contagious. And the thing was that I knew when things went bad. Well let’s face it, a lot of people knew, when but I seriously suspected it before it all came crashing down. I grumbled about it almost daily. My wife was sick of it. Maybe that’s why she kicked me out. “I told you so,” are not words that endear you to people or create deep bonds.

Aw, see? That’s where the problem was, bonds. One of the things that any mathematical or physics theoretical specialist will tell you is to not apply the math unless the entire scenario fits. Some seriously damaged soul had taken a mathematical algorithm that defined how bodies of a certain mass react and applied it to bonds. If bonds have any mass it can only be defined by the amount of puffery used to sell the things. Why, then were we using the math of gravity (as we knew it) to define bond markets? It was insane and it kept me up at night.

It’s taken me months of research, quiet investigation and not a few bribes. I have, however, found someone that is sure they have a functioning pathway to the past. They were quietly looking for volunteers because one person had to stay in the present while one went into the past. I was game. And I knew just where I wanted to go.

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Wall Street in the late 1990s was on fire. There was a perception in the country that things were really moving up. I knew then and I know now that the real numbers were far gloomier. Expendable income in the majority of households had not risen in a decade or more. But people believed. And when they believed they spent money. I was there to find the one person that would change the course of the future. The MBA who thought it was a good idea to mix physics with finance. Surely I could explain the facts of life and economics over a nice Manhattan lunch and return to a saner world, a world where I still had a job.

His name was not widely known. A student in a university taking an MBA with a serious interest in economics. He fell in love with math. He had been looking for a way to determine future yield on bond markets. Something reliable in an emotion driven market. (You didn’t really think that market investments were driven by logic, now did you)?

I had to convince this person that the idea he was about to take to Wall Street was the worst economic decision the world had seen since the crash. I found him in an off-campus diner, chatting with another student. Placing myself to hear the conversation I realized that this was the physics student that would drive him off course. Friendly as I could be I introduced myself as a visiting professor of economics. During our lunch I did my best to point out the pit falls of combining the fields in the manner they were attempting. Believing I had made my point I took my leave and found my way back to the portal.

I found things as they should be in the lab. My guide, however, was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps I didn’t return exactly as expected, so I went in search of information. Walking down the hall I saw a television on in what appeared to be a break room. Several people were watching the program on the screen and I stepped in to listen. There was the student, now a few years older and he appeared to be under arrest. Moving closer I heard the newscaster rattle off some statistics that only made sense in one context. The camera pulled out and on the building behind him an all too familiar logo came into focus. Oh, he had learned all right. When I suggested his formula would cause havoc in the bond market he simply switched tactics and sold his paper, and his life to Enron. I had arrived too early. And most of it was going to happen again.

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30 Cubed – The Anthropologist

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There was a time, back in the early 21st century, when the debate surrounding interstellar travel settled into roughly three camps. These were the “go now with what we have,” the “wait a few decades and the physics/technology will grow so quickly we would out run the first mission” and, well, the “do we really care?” crowd.

The last was understandable as it became increasingly clear that space was not a friendly place. The problems that would be faced by the human mind, body, and spirit were daunting. More and more people began to realize that leaving our cozy home was not going to be all that easy. Perhaps, we should take better care of that home. After decades of abuse, restoring portions of the earth to health would demand a multinational commitment of funds and energy. How could there be anything left for space travel?

There was, as there always had been, a portion of humanity that could not resist the call of the stars. Unwilling to wait on the political will, private companies began to spring up and look seriously at the requirements for getting members of this delicate race on to the surface of another galactic body; and hopefully avoid such things as stars and black holes. Some companies formed coalitions to share costs, some specialized and provided needed technology and research to those who would dare to try. Eventually, the “go now” crowd won out and a star ship took shape.

I’ve studied the history of how my ship was built. The strange political maneuverings and financial schemes intrigue and confuse me. It is a culture as foreign to me as native cultures must have been to exploders in our race’s far distant past. I have spent many hours in our ship’s library, learning about human history and the failures and successes of the meetings between cultures and species. You see, I am the ship’s anthropologist and it is my job to help maintain a healthy onboard culture and to help make the smoothest contact possible when we arrive at our destination.

I am the second generation born in transit. This is, of course, a very good sign that we have overcome most of the unknown hazards during the birthing and rearing of the first in-transit generation. We started with all that earth could offer, including our own magnetic field. But space is unforgiving. Even with artificial gravity, it is not a full “G,” whatever that should mean to us on board now. Consequently, our bodies changed. Many of the regimens demanded of our grandparents were abandoned by our parents. We know we must prepare for some change in mass, but we have yet to discover what that change will be. So I spend hours at a time searching for clues of how we might react and what systems I can put in place to make that transition easier. After all this time we really can’t opt for staying on board. The ship will not last forever and some of the systems are beginning to show their age. Including the nuclear plant that brought us here. When we arrive at our destination we will have to find a place to call home.

Home. How do we define a home we have never seen and that we are just now learning about? We are approaching the system that has been our goal for three generations. Our libraries tell us that there are some very large gas giants, a few rocky worlds that appear to be much larger than earth, and moons. The moons are our target. It amazes me that our ancestors could bet so much on the hope that a ship filled with yet-to-be-born children could find a home around a far distant star by settling on a moon that may or may not be there. Yet, here we are. As of 24:00 ship’s time we began the breaking procedure to enter the system through its Oort cloud and to begin our search.

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We have experienced a large dose of astronomical luck, or maybe solar systems really aren’t all that unusual or unique. In any case we have located at least a dozen moons that represent good candidates. Chemical scans indicate that the required elements are there. The question remains whether or not something or someone is already availing themselves of these candidates. Tomorrow I go with the landing crew to check out our first option. I’m not entirely sure what I can do should we find something. I do know that the thought of being “outside” is somehow terrifying. I really must get a grip on myself.

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30 Cubed – The Linguist

header slimThe cottage was perched on the edge of the rocky cliff, a bare 50 feet above the high tide marks. It wasn’t all that unusual for it to take the brunt of a storm now and then. That’s what shutters were for. And the generator. Power this far out from the nearest town was iffy on occasion and if you wanted to read and work on a computer, well, power was a very good thing.

Infonet access was only available through satellite phone. What had once been the wild wild west of information had finally been organized in a way that humans could manage. University libraries were digitized, museums were online with virtual tours. No one had to argue over who stole what from where. What was not hidden away in private collections was returned to the source country and set up in virtual holo-deck tracks.

I had lived in this cottage for a decade. It was cozy, easy to take care of (except when one of those storms blew in) and it put me right on the doorstep of the Pacific Ocean and a beautiful, private, beach. When I’m wasn’t conducting research in the water or out, I was walking that beach and letting the rolling waves and gentle breeze help me think. I did a lot of that. The information that I was gathering kept me hungry for more.

Each day I would put on my gear, step into the water and swim out beyond the kelp beds. That’s where they would meet me, those playful, intelligent and sometimes rather cruel beasts we had always called dolphins. Yes, that’s right, I’m that one. The one that claims she can talk to dolphins. I retreated here a decade ago because people thought I was nuts. Even with piles of evidence, the arrogance of the human race could not look at a “fish” and think intelligence. Primates managed to garner some sympathy, but they could play like a human. Dolphins, though they would perform, were stubbornly their very own creature.

As a student I had come upon the work of Dr. Laurance Doyle who worked with SETI in the early 21st century. He devised a method to determine if a group of sounds conveyed information. The squeaks, whistles, clicks and bubble blowing of dolphins charted out in the same manner as any human language. He was convinced they were conveying information. Their food gathering plots were intricate and showed quite a bit of intelligence. Then, of course, they had fascinated mankind and pervaded myths and legends in one form or another for centuries. I could not resist the urge to find out just what it was they were so talkative about.

Well, I believe I know now. I will be meeting with the pod today. I’ll have to tell them it’s the last day. I really must put together all of the information I have documented. People need to know and I think I have enough evidence to show them what we should have known all along. I know without a doubt that I have accurately recorded their stories. As ancient as the species, and as broad as the ocean itself. These wise creatures know the health of the globe like no human can.

We’ve had discussions about my approach. They are really not that happy that I want to share. You see, they have a plan to change things. It’s not just theirs, of course, they would have help. But it would cause a lot of upheaval and I’d like to get the word out before something terrible has to happen. They are trying to convince me that the only thing I will accomplish is a mass murder of them and their kind. I really hope humanity is better than that! In any case, I’ll try to get them to work with me one more time.

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Debris floated in the surf. A waterlogged computer lay half covered with drifting sand. The drifting bits appeared to be the remains of a small cottage. Perhaps a storm had come without much warning; perhaps not.

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30 Cubed – The Children

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The youth played with the stick in his hand. Poking the campfire in front of him while watching the flames dance in the evening air. It felt like it might rain, but these days one never knew. Weather came and went at the whim of those that played with it. It was best not to anticipate, but be prepared. He tossed another limb on the fire.

“Why are you doing that? You should be practicing and not using your hands for such a simple thing.”

Jason sat back on his log and turned to his younger sister. “Sometimes it’s nice to do something yourself. To have a feeling for what it was to pick something up and figure out how to make it work. Maybe you are too young to remember, but I do.”

“Oh, no, Jason, I remember. I also remember things we could have done if we had practiced more.” Susan looked at the fire and watched it grow under her gaze. She shivered and glanced at their younger brother sitting off by himself intent on watching some helpless creature in its own struggle for life.

“Susan, you cannot blame yourself. I certainly did not see it coming so I don’t know how you could have.” He shifted in his seat and focused on the child long enough to make sure he wasn’t forgetting to stay warm.

“Jason, we didn’t know she was sick. If we had known we might have kept Andy from trying to fix her. He just didn’t know enough.”

“I, know. Neither did we, really. But we couldn’t have known how Dad would react. I guess he’s always been uncomfortable with the change. Frank told me a lot of the parents, especially fathers, just can’t handle it. In his eyes Andy killed Mom. He wouldn’t listen when we told him Andy was trying to fix the cancer. He didn’t really believe she had it. I guess with all this other stuff going on she didn’t want to tell anyone. But Andy knew. He knew it hurt her and he wanted to fix it. He just didn’t understand all the things he needed to know.”

Susan sighed and willed another log on the fire. It was getting colder. Unseasonably so. But seasons were no longer things to trust. Not as those who were Andy’s age began to play with the world as if it were a large tinker toy or box of legos. “I still hope he’ll be okay.”

“I only knocked him out, Susan. I do know what I’m doing.”

“That’s why you wanted to touch the limb, isn’t it? You’re not really sure.”

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Another visit to the world of Childhood’s End.

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30 Cubed – The Guest

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(Inspired by a writing prompt from Writer’s Write Creative Blog)

Through the open window there was as a sound of doors slamming shut. Derek had come fully awake at the first sound of tires squealing as the car came to a stop. He had not moved. It was the middle of the night; why couldn’t he remember coming to this place and why did he feel threatened?

Someone was banging on a door downstairs. There was a shout, something about they were coming. Derek decided that in the absence of any real information he needed to find a way to be elsewhere and quickly.

Silently rising from the bed he quickly searched the room in the light of a flashing neon sign. He saw his shoes by the bed and grabbed them, heading for what looked like a wardrobe or closet of some kind. Not the best option, but he had no way of knowing if he would be seen if he attempted to leave the room. Or if he should care.

He opened the door carefully, relieved it didn’t make any loud noises, and slipped inside. It seemed roomer than it looked from the outside, but still a less than comfortable fit. In the darkness behind the closed door he tried to feel for ways to cover up or disguise his presence. Even moving around with care it became apparent that the back of the cupboard was loose. He gently pushed to see if he could create a false back of some kind to hide behind. The panel slid open and he found a small, tidy room with a dim lamp. Hearing footsteps on the stairway and, seeing no other options, he stepped in and closed the panel behind him.

There were no doors, windows, or closets in this room, although there did appear to be ventilation. He found a latch to secure the panel, moved quietly to a chair and turned out the light. There was quite a commotion going on in the house. The best he could tell there were at least two, maybe three men conducting a thorough search. He listened carefully to see if he could gain any clues about who they were searching for (was it him?) and why? All the while trying to remember why and how he had arrived in the predicament.

He could hear them talking in the next room now. “His” room. It wasn’t English. Maybe – yes — that’s right! It was Dutch. But he only knew enough Dutch to find a taxi, order dinner and find the nearest loo. Ah, yes, that’s what it was! He had arrived in the Netherlands to attend a book fair. And there was something about a tour. He had seen little in the room he abandoned before he sought escape, but he did recall a necklace, some old paperbacks and a wineglass. He didn’t drink wine. And he sure didn’t remember a person who would have worn the necklace. He wasn’t all that interested in old paperbacks. If only he could remember something! When were these people going to leave? He heard the cupboard door swing open. Was it possible to see the false panel from the other side? He sat, not moving a muscle.

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I promise, with another character, to do something more with this one.

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30 Cubed – The Sketcher

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There is a tradition that seems something from a different age, and one I never experienced when I was young, the family vacation. I have reached a point in my life when things are different and I can afford to take the traditional sabbatical.  I choose to do so at the lake. I find the parenthetical pause useful in a life flooded with too much to do. Here, things slow down. In Brigadoon-style, life is lived in episodes.

I visited the lake in September and I always stayed the full month. Though not quite deserted, the population of the tiny town was certainly much reduced. Dinner did not require reservations, and the lake was not crowded with water sports, barking dogs and screaming children. It was quiet. And I loved the feel of fall creeping into the early morning air. It was my time. You see, I am a writer. For one month I was free of marketing, editors, illustrators and all the other paraphernalia of life. Just me and my laptop in a lakeside cabin in the fall.

I was not completely oblivious to the other inhabitants of the town. After all, the place had a wealth of character material among the locals and the visitors. When writing seemed to come slowly I would tap out short cameo sketches of the people I met. Describing them and creating short story threads around them as I saw them that fall. I was having lunch on the deck at the local restaurant and searching for a subject when I noticed her.

She sat on a small stool with an artist pad on her lap. I wasn’t close enough to be sure, but it appeared that she was sketching something with charcoal or pencil. Her subject sat on a bench before her apparently lost in thought. Soon, the artist tore a sheet from her pad and handed it to her subject. The man stood, holding the sketch before him and started laughing. Pulling his wallet out he offered her some currency and I saw her shake her head. He shrugged and, still laughing, walked away.

As the days passed I saw the sketcher here and there, always with her stool, always sketching. Some of her clients appeared quite happy, some very sad. One even tore the sheet to tiny shreds and watched as the confetti floated on the wind to the water. The day came when it seemed time to visit the artist myself.

I found her not far from my cabin and near the public dock where my boat was moored. She wore a large straw hat that kept the sun from her eyes. It also kept her face in shadow making it difficult to estimate her age. She wore a long skirt and a blousy top reminiscent of another time. He hands were suntanned, rather delicate, and very nimble with her tools. She smiled at me as though she were expecting me and motioned toward the seat on the sunny side of the boat house.

She sat and began to draw. Time seemed to slow in the mid-day sun. I found myself lost in contemplation of life in general. I drifted to a state of might-have-been. Would life have been different if I had known this person sooner, never met that one, had children, a different career, a different childhood? What was it that made me who I was? Would any other life had changed that? I forgot the artist and drifted on a gently rolling sea of thought.

With a start I realized how far the sun had slid across the sky. Wondering if I had actually fallen asleep I shook myself and noticed the patiently waiting sketcher. She smiled and handed me the torn sheet from her pad. Taking it from her hand I looked at what she had created. I still don’t know if it is a good thing to know with certainty what your future holds or what it is that makes you you.

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30 Cubed – The Dispatcher

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Here we go – number 9 weighing in at 684 words

Bryan sat as his console and thought about his next break. What a wonderful way to spend a Saturday night. Sitting in a chair in an environmentally controlled room staring at blinking lights and a large screen monitor. He still could not believe he had let his “friend” talk him into the extra shift. Yes, the money would be nice, but no, he couldn’t think of a more boring way to make it.

Lunar City itself wasn’t that bad these days. After years of intense construction converting lunar soil into and underground human “hive,” many of the things available on Earth itself could be had at base. Luxury items were a bit pricey, but anything that had a composition compatible with the Earth-Orbit waste or lunar soil was really pretty reasonable.

Bryan spent a lot of his time directing the traffic that moved salvage from the debris field orbiting the earth to the sorting platforms orbiting the moon and on to the 3-D manufacturing bots near the Mars Mission construction site. He had been a stellar math student but in today’s job market “stellar” wasn’t always good enough. To get traction in that market he needed to beef up his resume. Thus, one trip to the moon to be a traffic cop running numbers to verify orbits and keep the traffic from bumping into one another or floating off course. For Bryan it was mind-numbing.

As he activated a desk-side concession bot for one more cup of something called “coffee” a light began to blink on his panel. Opening a communication channel to the affected platform, he maneuvered his visual field to see if there were any apparent problems. What he saw did not immediately make sense.

He could see that that the lunar low-orbit was in trouble. The docking tether had snagged a collection net on the Sweep and was not deploying as it should. Not a common occurrence, but not that unusual, either. The collection nets could get a substantial magnetic charge up and some of the older tethers had not been replaced with zinc-coated arms. Still it should not have been a problem requiring his intervention. The platform had bots that could handle the situation within minutes. No, what bothered him was something that was not right with the platform station itself.

Technically the system was a monument to simplicity for such a complex task. Each LLO would snag a Sweeper, maneuver it to the station, dock and secure the vehicles. Then station bots would snag the collector nets, detach and push them through the station loading ramps. By the time the nets were run down conveyor belts to the sorting rooms the engineer from the shuttle would be seated to help sort through the collection. Using robotic arms, metals, cables and nuclear waste were sorted for separate processing. The nets were “vacuumed” and de-magnetized. Bots would take the empty nets back to the Sweep and the engineer would shuttle the Sweep to launch orbit.

The system had efficiently handled tens of thousands of metric tons of debris in the last several years. Using the recycled debris and resources mined from the moon, both the Lunar City and the interplanetary ship had been constructed on accelerated schedules. It had to work efficiently. Target launch date was 2032 and that was fast approaching.

Something, however, was wrong with the platform Bryan was looking at. The pilot of the shuttle was filing a mayday because he could not get a response. Suddenly, the image Bryon had not been able to process became crystal clear. He hit the communication button and ordered the engineer to disengage. “Abandon the Sweep! Get that ship clear!”

 

NOTE: Well, again this is not all fiction. There are indeed companies that are working on using lunar soil compositions in 3-D printers to build habitat parts. Recycling earth’s space debris is also within the reach of current technology. It seems that if we are to reach other parts of our solar system we really do need to think beyond our own atmosphere for resources and development.

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