Authors: Mackey Chandler
Down to Earth
A sequel to the novel "April"
Next in series: "The Middle of Nowhere"
Credits: Title: Xander Opal, Cover photo: Ed Darrell
Jeff Singh watched the tension on the old brass fish scale increase in discrete steps, as he spun up the donut shaped vessel beneath it. Twenty dollars on eBay and another fifty-six dollars UPS standby rate to LEO, made more sense than near four hundred bucks for basically the same thing new from a scientific apparatus supply house. Besides it had character, old brass, well worn, with a faint fishy smell. As lab equipment, what it lacked in sensitivity and traceability to an official standards, it made up for in ruggedness and disposability.
He wasn't sure it might not be sucked into the device he was spinning up and destroyed quite early in the test, so there was no point in wasting something expensive. The entire apparatus looked like something cobbled together for a high school science fair. The frame holding his torus and the scale, was bolted together of perforated channel meant for shelving. The torus was a plain titanium tube, auto-fabricated and the bare welds unpainted.
There was some preliminary math to describe what was happening here, but when he attempted to add a spin factor, the equations didn't make sense. Some unknown factor had to be missing. He had been months waiting to get enough of the quantum fluid inside the torus from his step-mum, that wasn't earmarked for some other project. It was still not being produced in enough volume to meet the demand. He couldn't argue that using it to defend Home wasn't more important than his experiment.
He was in the North non-rotating section of Home, so there were only the faintest of unbalanced gravitational fields and tidal stresses here, nothing should ordinarily be tugging on this brass weight. He grunted in satisfaction and cut power, letting it spin down. Then he watched the mass stretch the spring again, in abrupt steps, as he reversed the spin. He heart pounded with excitement when he saw that. It sucked his weight in regardless of the direction of spin.
He pulled a box of mints out of his pocket and tore a little flap off one end of the box. The lower part of the frame and the support bearing didn't allow room to position a scale and weight, but when he flicked the small piece of cardboard toward the axis it reached a certain point and then made a right angle turn and was pulled into the wheel. The mechanism sucked in from both sides. It might well have pulled in at one end and pushed away at the opposite.
He'd started with no preconceptions on that. The force might have even reversed with the rotation. It proceeded again in distinct steps, that increased in strength exponentially as it spun up. It wasn't a straight line ratio. He stopped at sixty thousand RPM, as that was well within the safe strength of the vessel holding the quantum fluid. It was too hard to get to risk spraying it all over the compartment. Not to mention the chance a failure would injure him.
The small brass weight that floated above the torus on a thin wire was pulled toward the spinning ring. He hadn't needed a very sensitive instrument at all, but next time he'd need one with more range and accuracy. It sucked the half kilo weight down full scale against the twenty kilogram stop, when it only had reached about a fifth of the maximum spin.
The scale reading showed that in a small cone of space along the axis of spin, the full effect of the Earth's gravitational field was either supplemented or concentrated. When he reached with a pen and pushed the wire holding the weight to the side, it was pulled back up by the force of the simple spring in the scale, as it moved off axis. He'd need to map the geometry of the field in detail later.
He didn't have a theory to explain
it was doing this yet, but that wouldn't stop him from using the effect for practical purposes. After all, he reasoned, the inventor of the telegraph didn't need a complete theory of metallic electrical conduction, before he hung wire. He needed to determine the minimum mass of the fluid and what geometry was useable and most efficient to produce the effect.
What he really needed now was some way to take a copy of this machine far from here. Once it was run in a space that was not as thick with gravitational gradient, he could tell if it was generating a field on its own, or simply redirecting the flux around it. That would put him closer to a model that explained what it was really doing. It was going to be tough to get support to do such an expensive experiment, monopolizing a ship for weeks. He'd show it to his mum - Dr. Nam-Kha. She had a different way of looking at things. Who knew what she'd see?
He considered what he really wanted to do and thought out the risks. The temptation was too great to ignore. He was sure he could get close enough to feel it, without serious hazard. He secured the scale and weight to the side, well out of the way and spun the device down to a lower speed, making sure he was braced well, with a good toe hold. He started well away, a full meter and swung his hand in an arc across the line that was a projection of the axis of spin. He wasn't sure if he felt anything. He kept slicing an arc through the air with his hand, a little closer each time.
After about six passes he was less than a half meter from the spinning donut and he felt a definite pull. His hand got a tug that was not his imagination. In fact it dipped thirty or forty millimeters as it passed the active region and the tugging sensation that traveled across the palm of his hand was quite noticeable, localized and unlike anything he'd felt in his life. It was as if an invisible string pulled on his hand.
He'd stop there. He didn't want to explain to the clinic how his hand got injured, by being sucked into spinning machinery by an artificial gravity field. But he wanted to be first person in history to actually feel it with his own body. He had an uncontrollable grin when he finished and shut the apparatus down.
The big question still to be answered was, spun much faster, would it compress hydrogen by gravitational gradient to the point it would fuse?
April carefully appraised the gentleman across from her. He looked older to her, in the way she was coming to associate with Earthies. However she knew from her research yesterday he was only forty-two. On Home now, the norm was to have life extension therapy, or LET and start it as early as possible. That meant as soon as a person was firmly into adolescence for most doctors.
When it was new many people delayed for years, because of the expense and fear of leading edge treatments, waiting to see how others fared before they committed themselves. But now it was cheap enough, if you could afford to live above the atmosphere you should be able to buy life extension and a whole generation of pioneers had grown from adolescence to adulthood, carrying the basic elements of LET. There wasn't enough data yet to show getting an early start had any great advantage, but that was the common assumption. There was enough data to show all the dire warnings about sudden gross mutation and raving madness were nonsense, mostly.
It looked to be a long time before they would have much data on recipients of LET dying of old age. Death by accident or homicide would reduce the sample size significantly too.
April's parents first bought it for themselves. Obviously they needed it more and still managed to afford it for her and her brother later. Only her grandfather was still visibly lacking the treatment and April was afraid to ask him why. She knew he had the money to buy it.
Below on Earth it was still priced beyond most of the middle class, unless they devoted nearly their whole means of living toward it. It was controversial and even outlawed some places. In absolute numbers there were a whole lot more North Americans with life extension treatments done on them, than the whole population of Home, but they were a tiny fraction of the population down below, wealthy and already keeping out of the public eye. The smart ones kept their status secret for their own safety, some politicians and media stars adding gray to their hair now, instead of color.
Once looking older might have built confidence in a person, because their face to the world declared this was a person with some experience in life. Now, on Home it was more likely to say - Here is someone that is poor and can't afford to take care of himself, or worst here is a religious nut who feels life extension is profane, a presumption to medically turn aside the stroke of heaven. Such a religious stand on LET was not exclusive to such groups as the Amish, but common to many who otherwise embraced a modern society.
Her breakfast companion was bald on top, with a wreath of short gray hair reaching in a band around the back of his head from temple to temple. That was unusual because there were cheap treatments to fix that problem which didn't involve LET at all. It was a risk indicator for heart disease and usually disappeared if that was addressed. But it was a sure sign he had not started any life extension therapies or that little matter would have been cleared up and other small changes would have had him looking closer to thirty. She'd seen that happen with her father when he lost his little crow's feet around his eyes and his skin smoothed out. Otherwise he seemed fit enough for someone who was in his forties, but not vain. He didn't have on any makeup or tattoos either and a simple bracelet was his only jewelry.
April had seen him a number of times in recent months having breakfast alone in the cafeteria. She made a habit of observing people here and his behavior was consistently different than others. For one thing he always looked happy. Not the mindless happiness which some simple folk have, or the false mask some devious people put on to beguile the unwary. He seemed to be genuinely satisfied with life every morning, poised and relaxed, not rushing through his breakfast and jumping up to hurry off like some driven working people, but savoring his food, reading the news off his pad, or doing the same thing April did, watching the crowd and enjoying seeing the variety of people interacting. She was predisposed to like him, before ever speaking with the man.
She'd been behind him in line before and heard him charming and chatting with her friend and favorite cook Ruby. He'd complimented her skill and gently flirted with her without being vulgar. She trusted Ruby as a judge of character and knew if Ruby had doubted the man's sincerity she would have cut his banter right off.
Yesterday, the last time she saw him in line however, something remarkable had happened which had taken all the casual out of her interest in him and sent her home to research his history as a priority over her planned business for the day.
It was a remarkable coincidence that she sat down and glanced up, just in time the witness the scene. The time window was literally seconds. There was a couple at the front and a secretary she knew worked in one of the offices here on the full gravity corridor next in line and the doctor at the end behind her. The woman had on Earth style business dress, with those silly hard sole shoes they wear.
As they moved up, someone had spilled something on the floor and as the woman stepped forward on it her heel slid forward, knee locked straight, going out from under her uncontrollably. She struggled to regain her balance, long after the point recovery was hopeless. She jerked her tray back and up as she fell and her silverware and full mug of coffee went sailing over her shoulder, straight for the doctor.
April just happened to look up at that instant, to see clearly what happened. His left hand shot out like a snake striking and gathered the tumbling utensils into his hand. Then, after they were snug in his palm, he snagged the mug with an index finger through the handle. The coffee was a long brown splash still climbing in the air, when he stepped out from under it like it was falling at lunar gravity instead of standard and reached out with his free right hand to cradle the falling woman's head and soften her fall. He succeeded enough to keep her from sharply cracking the back of her head on the hard floor. Likely he saved her from serious injury.