The Nickel Tour

Just as Doc and Steve get up to leave the Paper Doll Casino, a rowdy countdown begins. All the view monitors switch to an external view from the bow of the ship. Saturn is in her full glory, the small moon Pan ferries the glittering Cassini Hotel through the beautiful river of the icy rings, and Titan is shinning gibbously beyond. The passengers all begin shouting out the numbers, like a New Year's Eve party.

"Ten! Nine! Eight!" Doc and Steve join them, swept up by the excitement. "Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! ONE!"

Silently, magically, Saturn and her moons begin to grow, slowly at first but then at an alarming rate. After a moment, when it seems they are not but motes of dust among the rings, the growth slows and begins to reverse. In an instant, Saturn shrinks away to nothingness.

The passengers cheer. Champagne is uncorked.

The stars beyond begin to lengthen and distort, turning bright red, then blue. They change shape and turn inside out, and then turn yet another, deeper inside out. They shift and dance as if the ship is inside a clear crystal disco ball looking out. Every now and again, the perception reverses as if the universe is inside the ball and they're looking in. Doc finds he can switch perspectives at will, meaning neither view of this crazy optical illusion is correct.

"Don't try to wrap your mind around it," Steve advises. "You could give yourself an aneurysm. C'mon, let's go find Veronica."

Just as he says that, a message arrives in Doc's glasses. The ship has just distributed the last transmissions received from Earth. It's from Nadine. She's sent him nude pictures.

"Welcome to the Central Engineering!" Lt. Roeker announces their arrival as the elevator doors open. He leads the small band of a half-dozen tourists out into an astoundingly huge and rather bland looking hallway. Doc and Steve keep to the back of the pack.

"The Marriott has two power cores. The primary is nearly two kilometers in diameter and contains a 5 solar mass neutronium core. The secondary is only a kilometer in diameter and contains a 2.5 solar mass anti-neutronium core. Matter and antimatter can be exchanged between the two cores via the central plasma conduit, and the energy of their annihilation reactions can be vented via the main engines, the retro-engines, or the main particle cannon. The antimatter core can be replenished by using converters on the main core, and the main core can be charged by the two Bussard RAM-Jet scoops on the wings. The wings are not just for style, they also provide a stable surface during atmospheric breaking and..." It's obvious he loves his job.

He leads the party down the hall, which is more like a highway, along the large cylindrical condiuts he pointed out. The area looks a lot like a small, enclosed city. Office buildings and factories line the main road while trucks and personnel carriers zip back and forth through the street.

"The buildings you see here keep the ship running smoothly. These buildings, or bulks as we call them, are administration buildings. They are departmentalized to handle all ships functions: Atmospheric and Aquatic Processing, Environmental Health and Safety, Hazardous Waste and Recycling Operations, Roads and Grounds, Structural Integrity Maintenance, Cosmetic Maintenance, Nuclear Engineering, Manuseisium Refinery, and many, many others. Behind these buildings are the associated facilities, and beyond those are employee quarters."

Lt. Roeker steps onto a waiting hover platform and allows the others to do the same. He guides it down the miles long corridor, pointing out points of interest which disinterest Doc and Steve.

"This is the secondary power core. It's main role is to power all low-level systems, but it can also act as a backup for the engine core. It also powers all weapons systems."

"What kind of weapons systems are on board?" Doc asks.

"Good question, always a favorite of mine to answer. Our primary particle cannon can fire a one gigaton pulse every thirty seconds, or a sustained 10 megaton beam. There are one hundred and twenty railgun batteries, thirty on each flank of the ship, as well as 30 torpedo tubes placed strategically around the hull. There are two fighter bays on the forward port and starboard sides, which we will pass in a moment. Each has a full compliment of twenty interceptors apiece. In all we can engage over two hundred targets at once. The hull is made of crystalized titanium, carbon nanofibers, ionized lead..." he goes on and on.

"So how do you think Veronica got involved with this ship?" Doc asks Steve.

"I'm not sure. I'm wondering why she's not with the Pear."

"They certainly are prepared for pirate attack. Is that common?"

"It's hard to say. Piracy is a strange thing to calculate, probability wise. Each dimensional sector we travel to by moving backwards or forwards in time has its own, lets call it a threat grid. A hot spot on the threat grid is a high probability of pirate attack, depending on environmental circumstances. Is there a good hiding place nearby? Is there a suitable fence on a nearby planet? Is there a good amount of high wealthy traffic? The distribution of these hot spots remains the same, usually. However, the intensity of the hot spots changes dramatically between causal dimensions. The only correlation I can find is the mean temperature of the interstellar medium. The colder it is, the more pirates there are. Of course, correlation does not equal causation, but it is an interesting relationship."

Doc stares at him a moment. "You really enjoy thinking deeply about these kinds of things, don't you? Solving puzzles?"

"Oh, yes. I've always loved diving deep into these kinds of problems. It's how I wound up inventing the Q-TIP. And I don't so much enjoy the solving of a puzzle as much as finding all the pieces, and even better, finding a new puzzle on the shelf."

"Do you ever cut loose? Relax? Forget all the crap log-jammed in your brain and just lose yourself in a moment?"

"Yes. Well, once or twice. In college."

Lt. Roeker stops going on about the intricacies of composite hull plating design and brings the hover platform to a stop. They've reached the end of the corridor where a large bulkhead separates the engineering section from the command center. It says so in large neon letters. The entrance to the command center looks a lot like a shopping mall.

"This is the Command Center! This area is restricted, but since you're all such great folk, we've got special VIP passes for you to get a secret look behind the curtian!" He hands out all the passes. "Now I've got some quick rules for you all, to make this tour as safe and fun as possible. Rule One, stay with me! Rule two, if you get lost, stay put and hit press the 'Help' button on your badge. Rule three, if you see red lights flashing while you're not with the group, lay down on the ground against a wall, and try not to trip anyone running past you! Rule four, touch with your eyes, not with your hands! Rule five, there's no rule five! Now let's have an awesome time!"

They enter the building. It's a maze of strangely angled corridors and dogleg turns, designed to protect against intrusion and internal nuclear detonations or other radiological incidents. Lt. Roeker continues babbling about how wonderful their security personnel are, and that there's openings in the HR department. "We're also looking for a new Psychological Councilor if you know of any licensed professionals on-board."

"Will we get to see the fighter deck?" Doc asks.

"Sorry, fella. That area's restricted, even to us VIPs!" The Lieutenant replies far too entheusiastically. "We do get to see the Command Bridge, though, how 'bout that?"

"Great." Doc replies, less enthusiastically. "Will we get to meet Veronica Autopilot?"

"Got a little crush on our star pilot, do we? That's okay, lots'a fellas do. Unfortunately, Captian Autopilot is always very busy and doesn't take visitors. She works so hard to keep all our pilots trained and ready, she hardly even sleeps! Now that's dedication. We will get to meet Captain Hosep Jazelwuud, the commander of the Marriott, as well as the head honcho himself, Admiral Spaaz! Isn't that great!"

"Wonderful. Can't wait." Steve says.

"Awesome! Come on, gang!" The guy either physically or psychologically immune to sarcasm.

Lt. Roeker keeps them on track through the winding corridors. They pass uniformed officers and personnel carrying datapads, smiling politely at them as they meander through the halls.

"So," Doc says, "I gotta know. How did you come by twenty billion dollars in the first place?"

Steve looks a little embarrassed. "Well," he starts. "I kinda, sorta, stole it."

"Really? You don't seem the bank robber type."

"Well, it wasn't a bank, actually. It was ideas. Patents, mostly. For little things. According to the recordbooks, I've invented a minor component of every major appliance from 1910 to the end of time, which is regrettably near. I change the name all the time, of course, but the royalties all funnel into the same account. Every so often I head out to the year 2400 and withdraw a few billion. I put half of that into my active account, and put the other half back into the main account sometime before Q-Net is invented, but after the collapse of the banks in the 21st century, of course. The interest on that is compounded, and by the time I return to 2400, my account doubles in size. Usually. Bank collapses are like pirate attacks, you can never quite predict them, dimension to dimension."

"So you have an infinite fountain of money?"

"Well, not entirely. Q-Net banking restrictions are wildly complicated. It's very difficult to compound interest annually when your information is stored atemporally. Every once in a while they catch on to the re-compounding scheme and destroy those funds and the interest, but the flow of patent royalties always ensures there's something in there. I try to keep ahead of them by maintaining several accounts but that just leads to complications. Quantum fluctuations of causal dimension jumping cause randomization of certain numbers, like bank account numbers. I probably have accounts out there I'll never find."

"Sounds complicated."

"Just the way I like it."

The tour comes to the main bridge. It's the most exciting thing they've seen on this trip, and that's not saying much. It's a very large, wide open area with a view-screen miles wide. Aisles of computer banks and their operators sit amongst the ant-like scurrying of gofers and their commanders. Personal hover vehicles zip around overhead, overseeing the activities on the bustling floor. Lt. Roeker directs them all to another hover platform charging along the wall.

While the lieutenant flies them up towards a particularly important looking cluster of scooters, Doc makes the mistake of looking out the window. The wild vortex of trans-dimensional travel combined with the flying of the hover platform makes him a bit dizzy. He puts it out of his mind.

The Admiral greets them warmly with a prepared speech about how grateful he is that they're traveling with him and how they've taken an interest in how the ship operates, and that he has every confidence in his crew on making a safe, relaxing, and exciting voyage.

The Captain follows up with a brief and fully uninformative description of how he pilots the ship with his little command pad there, the command structure of the crew, and a dulled version of the finer points of XD drives. Essentially, he presses a little button and a thousand other people do the jobs of calculating things he doesn't quite understand and applying physics he cannot comprehend. The meeting is brief, as apparently he's got a lot of hovering around to do, but the other tourists are glad for the opportunity to meet him and express their gratitude.

As the group prepares to depart from the bridge and wrap up the tour, Doc tries again to get hold of Veronica. "Are you sure we can't arrange a meeting with Veronica? We're friends of hers."

Lt. Roeker is getting a little tired of Doc. "I'm sure you are, buddy, but Captain Autopilot is a very busy lady. Besides, she doesn't like men, in fact, she hates them. Sorry to burst your bubble, there."

"No, I know that, and I know why. I don't want to sleep with her, I want to talk to her. Like I said, she's a friend of ours. Now, maybe she is very busy, and I understand that. What I want to know is how can we let her know we're here so she can call us when she's not busy?"

"She's never not busy, fella. The woman never sleeps. She like a machine. You can submit a meeting request to the External Vehicular Interception main desk, but don't expect a response. Now, our time is almost up and we've got to get back to the lifts. If anyone has any more questions about the ship, please, ask away!"

1 comment:

Doc said...

Okay, let's start by doing this the easy way. Leave a message at the External Vehicular Interception main desk. Meanwhile have Steve try to contact her on the radio. She is a robot right? Surely she has a commlink built in right?

"Steve, I just had a thought. Forgive me if this sounds stupid, but do we need Alyss? Could you program Veronica with all the skills, memories, and reflexes of Alyss? I'm sure it would be complicated, but you are a smart guy. Couldn't we replicate her and save ourselves the trouble of chasing all over time looking for a woman who doesn't exist? We wouldn't have to get her exactly right, I mean what does it matter if we get her favorite color wrong, just as long as her piloting skills were complete. Besides, Veronica would be faster than Alyss ever could be as she can interface with the ship itself. There have to be detailed records somewhere of her flights. We could use those as a jumping off point. What do you think?"