seawasp (seawasp) wrote,

GRAND CENTRAL ARENA: Removed Chapter 2

Here's the second of the two chapters which used to begin GCA, but were removed in favor of doing most of what these did a different way.


Chapter 2.


Simon couldn't keep from looking directly at Saul Maginot as he finished. Head of the CSF for 40 years, Saul was also undoubtedly the single most influential member of the SSC; if Maginot was on his side, he'd almost certainly get permission, but if he wasn't… It will be a bloody long battle to convince anyone else, that's for sure.


I'm sure he's on our side, Mio said, seeming as always to be standing just to his right, a delicate Japanese girl in a lab outfit matching his own. Analysis of his posture and focus indicates he was pleased to see the overall results.


He gave an internal smile to his AISage companion. We'll need other support too. What are our statistics?


Overall attendance 96.70% of capacity. Live attendance, 11.25%. She giggled at his startled reaction. Yes, I think we have caught peoples' interest, Simon.


Simon restrained himself from showing anything in the real world. But those numbers were gratifying. Not so much the overall attendance, which was high but not startling, but the physical attendance figures, which meant that more than one out of every nine people he saw out there was actually present. Expected attendance at such an event – given Kanzaki-Three's location in the asteroid belt – was more like 2%.


And he saw, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Space Forces rose, that Saul Maginot was in fact one of those present. "Dr. Sandrisson, if you would, a word with you. In private. Your assistant can field any additional questions from the audience, I am sure."




Go on, go on. He's a man on a tight schedule and if he wants to talk privately, you'd better do it. Mio's avatar materialized on the stage and stepped up to the podium as Simon started down. "Hello, I'm Dr. Mio Hyashibara, and I will answer any of your questions I can. As Dr. Sandrisson's primary AISage and research partner, I am of course familiar with all of the work and most of his vision."


Simon heard the questions start as he made his way off the stage. Maginot was waiting for him, along with what was possibly the largest man Simon had ever seen aside from a couple of clearly engineered or modded wrestling types; significantly over two meters tall and massively built, well-tanned, with piercing black eyes, black hair, and a carefully-trimmed short, pointed black beard; he appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties by old standards, not that that meant much. He moves very lightly, though, Simon thought, not at all as heavily as I would expect. And there's something familiar about him…


Maginot led them to one of the side conference rooms. "Dr. Sandrission, let me introduce Dr. Marc DuQuesne."


"Dr. DuQuesne." The other man's hand felt like solid iron, though he didn't grip Simon's hand terribly hard. "Are you with the CSF, Doctor?"


DuQuesne shook his head. "No," he answered in a rumblingly deep baritone voice, "I'm a power engineer – consulting, mostly, so I've done work for the CSF, Fusion Associates, Energy Explorations Limited, and so on."


It clicked. "You're that DuQuesne!"


"Eh?" The huge engineer looked suddenly wary.


"It was you, wasn't it? Who worked on the singularity generator project?"


DuQuesne seemed to relax and nodded. "Oh, yeah, that was me. A lot of other people worked on that, though."


Indeed they did, Simon thought, but all of them credited you with the breakthroughs in actually using a singularity for practical large-scale power generation. "Well, I'm very glad to meet you." He sat down in one of the conference room chairs; the others did so as well, swiveling their chairs to face him. "Commander Maginot –"


"Saul, please. I hate that 'Commander' business unless I'm actually commanding something, which I'm not right now, and Gods willing, I never will again."


"Saul, then. You wanted to speak with me in private, so – meaning no offense – why is Dr. DuQuesne here?"


The smiles exchanged between the two men hinted at things Simon suspected he'd never have explained. "I've worked with Marc before and I value his input. And if you are going ahead with this project, he's probably your best candidate for onboard power engineer."


"I wouldn't doubt it," Simon agreed. "So what can I do for you, C… Saul?"


Maginot frowned for a moment, clearly trying to choose his words carefully. "Doctor Sandrisson, scientifically I can of course see a reason to continue your work. But there are clearly risks involved; over one percent of your probes simply failed to return, which I have to assume means they were destroyed. As you're working on, quite literally, the very edge of understandable physics and the phenomena you're seeing even you don't fully understand, I have to be seriously concerned. What's the Schilling potential of this experiment?"


Simon winced. "Schilling potential" referred to the most infamous scientific debacle of the modern age, when Dr. Mike Schilling, a top-flight nanoengineer, had announced the testing of the first functional nanoreconstruction designs. The only good thing about the event was that Schilling's lab had been on the Moon, so when the minor flaw in the nanocoding caused the nanobot swarm to convert Schilling, his unrelated research partner John Schilling, seven assistants, and the entire lab installation into more of themselves in a classic "gray goo" scenario, Earth governments had been able to avert total disaster by authorizing a full-scale thermonuclear strike on the affected area and a hundred kilometers surrounding it.


Ever since then, a Schilling, or Schilling potential, was used as shorthand to speak of scientific or engineering disasters based on lack of information or adequate precautions. Simon shrugged finally. "It's difficult to say, Saul. I don't see any real potential for disaster outside of the personal – that is, that the ship that goes could disappear like the probes. Nothing that I know about the behavior of Kanzaki-Locke-Sandrisson space or the associated phenomena when entering or leaving would seem to present any danger. Can I rule out some unknown phenomenon, perhaps associated with scaling the system up to full vessel dimensions? Of course not; there are certainly some odd events happening here, or I would not require assistance to investigate. However, I really do not think there is any extraordinary danger."


Saul grunted, a grudging smile on his face. "All right, Doctor. I admit, I doubt there's any danger beyond that of your disappearing into your own invention, but it's the kind of question that always haunts me at night.


"A more pressing question is why should we bother?"


Simon stared at him with a sinking feeling in his gut. If Maginot didn't really understand…


His expression must have made his feelings plain, because Saul Maginot raised his hand. "Understand me, Doctor Sandrisson, I personally think that the very nature of the study justifies itself. However, you want me to authorize manned testing rather than unmanned testing, and that places significant responsibility on me."


"Oh." Simon couldn't argue with that. Personal freedom was a major issue in the Solar System, but if you were a part of the general Solar Alliance, you had to follow the rules involving human-level experimentation of any type. And no one had forgotten the monstrous experiments of Hyperion Station, least of all the man who'd formed the CSF to clean up that mess 40 years ago. "Well… I would think, economically, that any method of faster travel would be useful in the long run. Has this not been the case historically?"


"Depends on the cost of the faster travel, and how much faster the 'faster' is." DuQuesne answered. "On the one side, if you give me instant teleportation from anywhere to anywhere, and make it zero-cost, you've got something infinitely valuable – and you'll change our society in ways I can't even imagine. On the other side, if it's only a little faster than normal, or if it costs as much more as it is much faster, there's not much utility to it."


"Oh, it will be much faster," Simon assured him, "and while the energy requirements do scale up, they end up being quite reasonable for long distance travel."


"Useful," Maginot allowed. He seemed unconvinced.


DuQuesne snorted. "Saul, why the hell don't you just come out and say it?"


There's something much more important to these two at stake, and they think I'm able to help, Simon thought. But what could my work…


A thought occurred to him. Mio? Take your spare cycles and look up Maginot's speaking and written opinion records, give me a personality graph, pick out his main concerns, if we can.


Of course, Simon. Mio responded. Despite fielding questions, Mio – herself rated at 2.5 Taylers – had little trouble doing this in a few fractions of a second. He's a very private man, but this deals with all public data relevant to your question.


What about this man DuQuesne?


Another set of data appeared. Even more private – access to data is heavily limited. Mio looked startled. His AISage isn't even embedded, Simon. There's no AI support headware at all, just input, output, storage, that kind of thing.


That was unusual. And the uncertainties surrounding DuQuesne's actual viewpoint, based on such slim data, were too high for him to make confident judgments on.


Maginot's profile, however, was quite clear – although without doing that kind of analysis, it would have been hard to tell.


Ah, yes. It's obvious now. And he cannot suggest anything of the kind himself.


The two men had been waiting for him to speak – a few seconds, only, but DuQuesne's raised eyebrow showed that he was aware of something going on. Simon smiled and leaned back in his chair. "I believe I do have a more… long-term benefit for the development of this invention, Saul, but whether it matters to you, I do not know. Are you an idealist, Saul?"


Maginot's mouth quirked up momentarily. "The average person might not think so, but there are certain high ideals I would like to believe in, yes."


"Such as the right to personal freedom and privacy?"


"Certainly." Maginot's expression was now blank – a signal that he might be on the right track. "But the Anonymity War established those rather firmly, did it not?"


"Indeed," Simon agreed, "But if history shows us anything, it is that nothing like that stays settled forever. The only reason that so-called War played out as it did was that governments of the time had gone blatantly overboard in their abuses of their power to spy on people, collect and distribute their information, and so on, and because Harriman Delosios was practically a saint in criminal clothing – taking incredible personal risks to commit crimes for nothing except the principle that human beings not merely deserve, but need, to have the ability to keep some things private, in order to maintain the essence of human dignity."


Simon drew a breath. "Unfortunately, that was two hundred years ago. Despite this very true principle, it is also true that many people also like to be able to find out things about other people – even when they, themselves, would object to the same level of intrusiveness into their lives. Governments – even the most benevolent of them – exist to organize the operation of a society, and this works best with information about the people of the society. These, and other little characteristics of groups of people can erode even the most highly treasured ideals of this nature quite quickly, especially the more concentrated the population becomes."


The blankness had become so solidly maintained that Simon was sure he was on the right track. But all that Saul Maginot said was, "Go on."


"There are now fifty-five billion people in the solar system – roughly thirty-five billion on Earth and the rest concentrated on Mars and the inner-system orbitals. Even so, there are still several billion people in what we call the outer System – marked by the border of the Asteroid Belt itself. It is becoming far more difficult to find somewhere to go that allows you to live comfortably without getting in other people's way, even with AIWish replicators to give people what they need and fusion and solar converters for power. And there are always concerns about groups that are completely independent. As I recall, the CSF gained most of its current level of power from one such incident."


It was DuQuesne who answered. "Hyperion," he said, gaze hooded, dark. "Basically the CSF was formed during… that mess. That led to the current government, to the rules about human-related experiments, all that. A lot of it sensible and worthy. But it's the first steps, and if we don't want to end up back in the ages where the government, or agencies of the government, could poke their nose into your business at will, we need something to make it less attractive."


"Precisely." He turned back to Saul Maginot. "Commander Maginot – Saul, this is the point. Effective faster than light travel – with the fact that current technology allows us to live and colonize almost anywhere – would allow the human race to spread much farther, perhaps across the galaxy. No government could maintain control across such distances; even if the Solar System were to end up in the control of people willing to use the potential for universal monitoring inherent in our technology, and no new Harriman Delosian to fight them, it would be useless across stellar distances which can only be crossed on a human timescale by physical objects, not transmissions. Our ancestors fought for their right to the dignity of privacy; this would assure us that such dignity will always be possible, as long as we develop it now – before any possibility of technological control by government emerges."


Maginot gave a broad smile that seemed to erase ten years of creases. "An excellent argument – just the sort of idealism and forward thinking that most of the current System Security Council likes to hear. Advancing the cause of human dignity, one of the highest aims of the Council." He stood. "I will have to leave for CSF Command in a few hours, but I will tell you that I will be recommending the SSC grant you permission for a manned mission, as long as you can garner the appropriate support in resources and personnel. Judging by the attendance I saw," he said with another smile, "that will likely be no problem." Maginot nodded to DuQuesne. "Marc. Good seeing you."


"And you, Saul."


DuQuesne watched the gray-haired CSF officer leave in silence, then looked at Simon. "We have a lot of work to do."


" 'We'?"


"I'm going to be your power engineer."


Simon blinked. "I don't get a choice in the matter?"


"More like I don't get a choice," the black-haired engineer said wryly. "You managed to read Saul, figure out what he really worries about late at night, and get him running off to the council to get this scheme approved – and since he's managed to keep the SSC pretty well stocked with his personal choices, I'm not too worried it won't go through. That tells me you've got an awful lot of what it takes. More than that, you've also got something that I'd give my right arm to be a part of. If you won't take me, I'm going to follow you around the system like a stray puppy until you give up and let me in."


The image of the huge man in front of him trying to look like a stray puppy caused Simon to burst out laughing. When he recovered, he shook his head and stuck out his hand again. "Then welcome aboard, Dr. DuQuesne. Truth to tell, I would be a fool to not take you, with your record. I couldn't ask for a more qualified power engineer, and it doesn't hurt that you're a friend of the Commander's."


The other man's smile was enigmatic. "Friend… not exactly. But we work together on some things, and this is one of the kinds of things we both worry about. I know he's been worried about the slow creep, the increase of government authority in the name of safety, for years – and we haven't even gotten close to the way it was back, oh, in the 21st century. Problem is," the power engineer's gaze was enigmatically distant, "people forget too easily. Forget the cost of giving up a little bit of control at a time, until one day you wake up, and you're not even sure you control your own thoughts."


The big man looked troubled and distant for a moment – enough so Simon was sure there was a lot more behind that speech. Then DuQuesne shook himself. "Enough of that. Let's get cracking, Doctor!"


Simon laughed. "A crew to pick, ship designs to work out, resources to actually construct it – yes, we do have work to get to."


Mio, he thought, on my way. The real work starts now!

And so it did.

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