Castaway Resolution – Chapter 20
“Jennifer?” Sue said softly.
The young woman’s eyes opened and looked around; for at least the third time, Sue watched the tension in Jen Buckley’s face ease into relief as she took in the clean brightness of Orado Port’s main medical facility. “I still keep thinking I’m going to wake up on LS-42.”
“I can’t blame you. You spent a bit over a year on that ship. But you’re safe now.”
“How are the others?”
“All five of you are making a good recovery, Doctor Ghasia assures me. The four who. . . didn’t make it have been preserved for whatever their next-of-kin want done.”
Jen’s brown eyes closed, a flash of pain. “Jo. . .”
“I’m sorry.” Sue reached out and touched the too-skinny shoulder. At least now there was starting to be a feel of some muscle underneath, a living tension in the skin instead of the horrific half-deadness of the people they’d found on the shuttle. “The doctor says you’re well enough to talk for a while, and as the Emergency Watch Officer responsible for addressing this situation, I need to start getting to the bottom of what happened. We can’t just drag people’s private data out of their omnis without permission, so that means we need personal consent, at the least.”
“Oh.” Jen Buckley got a distant expression on her face, then laughed. “God, where do I start? None of us ever had any idea we’d be. . .” She trailed off.
“I know. Let me give you a starting point. We know what happened to Outward Initiative — and why. We know –”
“You know why?”
“Yes.” She outlined the solution she and Numbers had come up with in those days following Outward Initiative‘s arrival.
A hollow chuckle from Jen. “Well, I guess we can’t sue them for negligence. They were so careful that they almost killed us all. Without knowing it.”
“Basically, yes. I don’t know it if helps, but because the crew did get Outward Initiative back to us reasonably intact, we were able to make this discovery and by now most of humanity’s faster-than-light fleets know about it. With luck, this won’t ever happen to anyone again.”
“I hope to God not,” Jennifer said. “Sorry I interrupted you.”
“No, its fine; you’ve got far more to bother you than I have. Are you ready to talk?”
“I. . . guess. Yeah, I suppose. The others aren’t ready?”
“Your father and mother are still in serious recovery; that level of starvation causes biochemical changes that nanos aren’t programmed well for, so getting them back in functional shape is taking time. Barbara Caffrey should be well enough soon, although she was also in pretty bad shape. William Fields seems okay, but he, well, clams up and seems nervous about saying anything to us about what happened.”
“Bill? Not talking?” For a moment, Jen looked puzzled. Then a look of comprehension spread across her face. “Oooohhh, I get it. He’s afraid that he might be held responsible.”
“Umm. . . Okay, so if you know about the disaster, I guess you know that when we got cut away from Outward Initiative, just about everything shut down hard?”
“Yes. Primarily caused by the Trapdoor radiation pulse.”
“So, yeah. Everything shut down and we were all freaking out and I was screaming and I think my sis. . . Jo was too.”
“Were you the pilot?” Neither of the Buckley sisters seemed old enough, but she had ended up in that chair.
She shook her head. The dead-dry hair had been cut off; the new fuzz starting to replace it was a glossy brown, the best sign of returning health Sue had yet seen. “No, I. . . well, I sort of was later but that was because our real pilot, Mr. Costigan. . .”
“He didn’t die en route?” The detailed examination of the bodies had taken a back seat to the care of the living, and the forensic specialists from Orado itself had just arrived.
“No. He seemed okay for the first few days, then he got really sick.” Her quick description of the symptoms confirmed Sue’s immediate guess.
“Was he out of his chair when the accident happened?”
“How did you know? Yes, he was in the airlock, trying to check on a warning light, when it happened.”
Sue nodded. None of the actual acceleration berths were in line with the airlock, which meant they were all more-or-less shielded from the radiation pulse that would have come straight down the access tube. “That makes sense. Trapdoor radiation pulse. The rest of you didn’t get enough of a dose.” She brought up visuals of parts of LS-42 in her omni, linked it to Jen’s. “What I’m interested in, really, is how you got here. For instance, do you know why the reactor was in forced low-power mode? What about these indications that the Trapdoor coils here and here,” she pointed to one point towards the front end of the shuttle, and another underneath, about halfway back, “were accessed? The coils obviously worked to get you here.”
“Well, they weren’t at first,” Jen said. “Bill said they’d, um, microwelded themselves together at points around the windings. So we had to take them out and make new ones.”
Sue blinked. “How did you know how?”
“Well, Barb — Barbara Caffrey? She’s a research information specialist. She was bringing a whole technical library with her, and once Bill figured out how to trick the rear door seal to open, she was able to get it activated.”
“Mr. Fields did that? He’s listed here as a minimum-technology mechanical specialist — the kind of person who does things like simple plumbing, non-autoassisted electrical wiring, and so on.”
Jen grinned; that still looked unfortunately skull-like in her current condition. “Well, yeah, but he tinkers, you know? He did a lot of stuff in his spare time — he talked a lot about it while he was showing us what to do. He’d ask Barb about something and she’d look it up, like the manual for the reactor, and then he’d dig into the diagrams and logic and figure out something. The low-power mode was because we couldn’t operate the reactor on full power any more.”
“Because we needed to take out some of the coils for the wire, to replace the wire on the old Trapdoor coils.”
Sue blinked at that. “Wait. You mean Mr. Fields disassembled some of the harvesting coils in the reactor and then started it up again? And it worked?”
Jen nodded. “Is that hard to do?”
Sue bit her lip. “In theory. . . well, you’d have to remove just the right coils. In just the right positions. Or you’d end up with an imbalance in the fields keeping the fusion reaction stable and the whole thing would shut down.” No wonder they were kept on low power mode. “And your research specialist Caffrey and Mr. Fields did the other repairs?”
“With the rest of us helping.” She took a deep breath, and the reason for her nervousness was suddenly obvious with her next words. “Um. . . I did a lot of the coding for them.”
“You coded the suspension app?”
“Well, with help from the database. Yeah.”
“So you’re an application oversight specialist? That wasn’t on your file.”
“I just did it as a hobby. I didn’t mess it up, did I?” she asked, and swallowed. “I mean. . . people died.”
Sue considered the answer carefully. Technically. . . yes, of course Jen had messed up parts of that design. Even with the best database to help, suspending the function of the supremely complex machine that was the human body — and especially the brain — was one of the most delicate and difficult tasks known to humankind.
But that wasn’t the right answer. “You did an astounding job, Jen. It took you. . . months, I guess, to do the repairs, and by then, even with rationing, you knew there wasn’t enough food. All of you would have died — all of you, Jen, without question — if you hadn’t done what you did. The fact that more than half of you got here alive tells me that you may not have done something perfect, but you did something more than good enough.”
Jen’s eyes were haunted. “But. . . I lost Jo. And Zahir and Alia.”
“Even professional doctors don’t save everyone, Jen. And there are trained doctors that wouldn’t have tried making suspension code like that — and they’d have lost everyone.” Sue made sure Jen’s eyes focused on her. “Be proud of what you accomplished. You’re not going to be in trouble over this, and neither is Bill Fields.”
“You can’t know that.”
Sue grinned herself at that. “Oh, yes I can. Because it is my job to decide where the blame goes, and I’m not dropping any on people who managed to pull off a miracle. How did you navigate home?”
“Oh,” Jen said, “that was the easiest part. Once we made sure we were going towards the right star, it was just sleep a long time, wake up and check that Orado’s star was still pretty much in the centerline of our course, and sleep again.” She looked sad for a moment. “The only person worried about it was Alia.”
Alia Manji had been an astronomer, one of the few pure science types headed for Tantalus (although she had a number of more practical skills that made her a good candidate). “Why was she worried?”
“Because of the extra star. Said it shouldn’t be there. But that wasn’t a problem, if you just ignored it you could tell that all the other stars were just where the databases said they should be.”
“Wait,” Sue said. “What do you mean, extra star?”
And now they’ve found Lincoln.
For some reason, I’m suddenly remembering an old Isaac Asimov story where the villain makes a very hasty, uncalculated, purely random hyperdrive jump to some other part of the galaxy (as a way to throw off pursuit after a big heist) . . . and then waits for the ship’s computer to check all the nearby stars against its database of every star in the Milky Way, and thus figure out just what the ship’s current galactic coordinates must be, and then the computer will follow a preset program by carefully calculating and performing a second jump that will take them to the desired destination. The villain waits . . . and waits . . . and waits . . . and finally realizes that the very bright star he’s already noticed, just a few light-years away, must have recently gone nova, and the computer is not programmed to make any mental allowances for such anomalous situations as “99 percent of the nearby stars are perfect matches, therefore I am reasonably certain I know where we are, despite that one annoying mismatch!”
Apparently the villain had no way to manually override the computer to force the ship to make another purely random jump, and then try again. It’s good to see that that the surviving humans and computers aboard LS-42 were capable of being more flexible in their navigation. “There’s an extra star off the port bow? So what? If we just ignore it, everything else is fine! That star will just have to take care of itself!”
That sounds like very poor programming (in the Asimov story). :wink:
Well, the villain had brought it upon himself. Right before takeoff, he had killed the co-conspirator who had done the actual programming. That way, the villain could keep 100 percent of the loot for himself, right? If the computer expert had still been around after that first jump, he might have been able to reprogram the computer when the need unexpectedly arose . . . but we’ll never know, since it didn’t happen that way.
Of course, the co-conspirator could have rigged the computer in such a way that if he was dead, the other guy would die as well. :twisted:
A similar thought had occurred to me. If I were the computer expert in that two-man partnership, I might have put in some “failsafes” that would make it essential to have me around, alive and well, for the duration of the voyage to the far-off world where we would fence the loot and be set for life. But I also would have taken the trouble to warn my partner about the failsafes so that he would know better than to kill me.
In Asimov’s story (which turns out be titled “Star Light”), the computer guy was an old man who’d been planning this heist for 30 years, and he’d gotten so obsessive about it that he seems to have completely forgotten to consider the possibility of an extra variable being thrown in at the last minute — such as treachery by the younger man whom he’d recruited to do half of the work.
While a sufficiently dense cloud in interstellar space could hide a star in the visible spectrum, it won’t hide it in the infrared spectrum. Thus, any computerized search for brown dwarfs (i.e., infrared objects that don’t appear in the visible spectrum) would have found this. Once somebody looked at it, they would immediately realize that it had the wrong brightness curve in infrared to be a brown dwarf.
I refuse to believe that whatever is hiding it is natural. It’s hidden from Earth AND apparently also from Orado, Orado is fairly close after all and has space based observation instruments.
Either no one has ever bothered to cross-reference the stellar observations, or it’s light isn’t getting to either place, or to anywhere else that would do a detailed cross-reference.
We’ve got ancient aliens in the setting, something a group of them did is hiding that star.
The star is visible from Orado (mentioned in next snippet).
Yeah, I already had the strong impression — although I can’t remember just when this was first mentioned in one of the Castaway books — that it seemed the star was only blocked from view if you were gazing in the proper direction from somewhere around “here.” (Meaning our solar system, and probably any other colonized systems located in the same general neighborhood?)
I would think that that’s dependent on the distance of the cloud, its density, and other factors. I mean, we have two extremes: One is there’s nothing between you and the target, the other is there’s a wall of rock a dozen lightyears thick between you and the target. The wall of rock will not let you see the star at all, and likely isn’t warm enough to even tell you that there is a star there.
So is the star going to warm a cloud of gas and dust that’s 10 light years from it enough so that you can see the star THROUGH it? How dense would it have to be for that NOT to happen?
(Note, I’m not saying it IS a nebula blocking the Earth from seeing it, just that it seems to me that one can’t categorically state it’s not possible. Looking at some infrared pictures of galaxies, it sure LOOKS like the dust can block you from seeing stars behind it.)