Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Stars of the Heavens: Chapter 1

I have been inspired by the Martian, among other things, that the age of didactic science fiction is not over.  This has set me to thinking about how realistically the human race might proceed to Interstellar colonization.  I've thus begun a project of thinking out how that might proceed.  My goal is to produce a new chapter a week.  It will end when it tells me to.  Having been inspired by Andy Weir, the author of the Martian, I think it is only fitting to invite feedback.  So, please communicate with me in the comments things you think could be improved.

Thus we begin, Stars of the Heavens.

Chapter 1: Run

Jethro was sitting at his computer console working on a program and that is why he saw it in time.  The Feds were coming for him and he knew why.
Had he been in the home theater watching movies he wouldn’t have seen it.  Had he been in his father’s completely furnished gym, he wouldn’t have seen it.  Had he been in the “game room” interacting with his father’s collection of porn, he wouldn’t have seen it.
Had he been using any of the incentives that his father had bought to lure him away from the computer console, away from being a computer nerd, he would not have been seen the warning that flashed across his screen as the Feds set off the alarm system he’d set up.
That meant he had about an hour to get out of here as nonchalantly as he could.
He wanted to tell his parents, his mother in particular, that he was leaving.; to say he loved them; to say he was sorry; to give them an indication that he was alive.  They were gone, however.  His father doing business and his mother socializing with the wife of the man his father was doing business with.
He accessed the controls to his mother’s stereo, set its volume volume to high, and set it to play a portion from an old song on a loop: The feel I'm on a cross again, lately /But there's nothing to do with you/ I'm alive, huh, huh, so alive/ I'm alive, huh, huh so alive.  He knew his mother’s taste in music enough to know that she would find it detestable, but would get the message, regardless.
He knew the Feds would find anything he sent electronically, and he didn’t want to risk a handwritten note.
There was really no reason for this secrecy except his desire to deprive the Feds of information in the same way they deprived everyone else of information.  With their control of the Net, they controlled every bit--literally every 1 or 0--of information that humanity had spent millennia of gathering.
And control it they did.  Under their control and over time, history changed.  Heroes became villains. Monsters became saints and then monsters again.  This had been done for hundreds of years, of course, but with the control of information in a few hands and that information subject to change there was no means to fashion a reasoned rebuttal.  Books had become electronic file and libraries, other than placed to buy coffee and use computer terminals, had become shining artifacts of the past.
Jethro hadn’t been the one to discover the malleability of history. It had been known for a long while. Jetro had come up with a solution, however.  He had created his A.I.
It was an artificial intelligence program, but he had long since quit thinking about it in terms of anything but the two letters A.I.  He had written it himself on the basis of some old technology that had come into his father’s hands.  Jethro’s father was a ...um... an entrepreneur who dealt in things that were difficult for citizens to obtain on earth. Things often came into his hands that wouldn’t come into the hands of someone not in his profession.
Though his father did want his son to be more social, he was still a father and loved him.  In one of his many attempts to build a bridge to Jethro, he had turned this old technology over to Jethro to “play with” as he had put it.  Jethro had indeed played with it.  He took it apart physically and put it back together. Then he did the same with its programming, making use of all of the data sources the government still allowed free access to.  This is probably what put him in crosshairs of the Feds.
Part of controlling the access of information is, of course, monitoring it. Searches for information form a pattern. While it was impossible for the Feds to monitor everyone all the time, they could watch patterns of searches.  They could then focus on those relative few who were searching is certain areas.
People who made the sorts of searches Jethro had were ordinarily rounded up very quickly.  Jethro had an advantage over most people, however.  Realtors would say he had three advantages: location, location, location.  
Jethro was a bit far from police headquarters.  He lived in the asteroids.
At first, going to space was something only governments did. Then there began the drip, drip, drip of private enterprise as it became practical.  The drip, drip, drip became a trickle with the infrastructure developed to the point of putting some of our nastier, carbon heavy production in space with robotic factories. This trickle became a stream when it was fully understood that since no country owned space, none could tax it or regulate it.
Some thought idyllic at first until the robotic factories in space created a large permanent class of unemployed who lived off the state.  This large class of unemployed had within it two sorts of people, those who desired to be entertained and those who, for a fee, would provide entertainment of a sort.
This entertainment came in a variety of ways.  Some of it was herbal.  In space away from large celestial bodies--say in the asteroids--the sun is always up.  Plants need the sun, need water, need carbon dioxide, and a few other easily available things.  Some of the unemployed found themselves tending marijuana, poppies, and coca plants in greenhouses among the asteroids.
Some of the entertainment was chemical.  Industrial chemistry had entered a golden age in space.  Compounds with nasty bi-products could be cooked up in the depths of outer space that would never created on a large-scale so cheaply on earth because of all of those pesky regulations.  It was easy for certain entrepreneurial types to purloin equipment and supplies from these mainly robotic chemical plants and press them into use in the manufacture of recreational chemicals.
There was even a little moonshine made, but that was mostly for the use of the folks who lived in space.
And there were folks who lived in space.  As good as the robots used in manufacturing were, there were still a few people needed.  An ironclad rule had been discovered: while it is cheap to take things down to a planet, it is expensive to bring them up.  Bringing up whiskey in quantity is too expensive. Easier to make it in space.  After the initial steps into space most everything used in space was built there.
Jethro’s father’s part in all of this is best described by the word middle-man. He didn’t grow marijuana or synthesize  any of the exotic narcotics and he sure as hell didn’t use them.  He was able through certain relationships to get them to where they needed to be and do so in a way that was lucrative to those with whom he worked.  He could deal with the sorts of folks who grow weed in space as well as the slick government types who he kept at bay with bribery.  
But when the Feds sensed a threat against their control, not even bribery would help.  They were coming for Jethro.
After Jethro left the message for his mother.  He left the rim of the family habitat, which was spinning to maintain gravity.  He made his way to the hub where his getaway vehicle was located. He never thought that this would be the last time that he would see his home. He didn’t get misty about maybe not seeing his mother again.  He was a 17-year-old boy and they don’t think about things like that. He focused on his plan.
Being in the profession he was, Jethro’s father had realized that one day he might need a quick getaway and had used his money well in this reward.  He’d probably never thought his son would be needing it instead of him.  The getaway ship was a small, hollowed-out asteroid.  It was mounted within a metal frame that consisted of four blackened steel rails spaced at equal intervals that ran the length of the asteroid that were connected to each other by three blackened steel hoops, one at either end and one in the middle.  From the right distance, it looked as if someone had put a baking potato in a cage.  
There were actually five of these ships, but only one was outfitted with living quarters on the inside.  The rest were filled with hot water.  The idea was that these would be decoys.  The hot water would fool any heat-sensing equipment that the Feds had.  
The steel in the rails also had a purpose. Each of the ships would be shot into space using a gauss gun. That is to say, large electromagnets would send them out into space without any flash that would betray him to the Feds.  It would be much easier to escape if the Feds had to search his habitat before they discovered he was gone.
The other four ships would go out in random directions at random speeds, while his ship proceeded to another gauss gun one hundred kilometers away where he got another boost.  With luck, he would have gotten his second boost.  Any slight course corrections he needed could be obtained by compressed gas jets that wouldn’t be visible to the Feds.  
The downside to all of this was that the lack of control. If he missed he ultimate target, he would simply be another rock in orbit around the sun, and there were a lot of those.
His ultimate target was a ring of engines that was design to fit around his baking potato in a cage.
He climbed into his ship and accessed its console.  From it he download his AI into its computer system. Satisfying himself that the transfer had been successful, he sent the single to the hab’s computer to purge the A.I. and fry the storage it occupied.
He then strapped himself in, and pressed the button which started shooting the ships into spaces.  Between the time he’d seen the warning that the Feds were coming and he felt the jolt of his ship being launched, 12 minutes had passed.  By the time the Feds had arrived, he had already received his second boost.  By the time they got back into their ship and checked the radar, they only saw five rocks speeding away from them.  Not liking their odds, they headed back to base, working on their report along the way.

Meanwhile, Jethro was at his computer console working on his A.I.


Janet said...

I'd be glad to proof it since your professional daughter would probably charge you.

Ossian said...

I would like to get a picture of the surroundings and general sort of weather. Perhaps some quirks of the protagonist and the other people mentioned, so it feels less abstract. I didn't get the "was, um, " bit about the father. Some of the exposition of background might be dispersed further along in the book. The escape is quite exciting and exotic. :)