Authors: Laurence Dahners
A sequel to “Vaz”
Laurence E Dahners
Copyright 2015 Laurence E Dahners
Though this book
“stand alone” it will be
easier to understand if read after the story “Vaz.” I have minimized the repetition of explanations that would be redundant to that first book in order to provide a better reading experience for those who are reading both. Link to Vaz =
This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.
Six years have passed since Vaz Gettnor invented a low energy hydrogen-boron fusion device as described in “Vaz.”
Pasadena, California - Today JPL announced the successful arrival of their Ajax probe at the “Near Earth Object” Kadoma. This body was discovered during the search for objects that might disastrously impact with our planet. Kadoma is of particular interest because it is relatively small and JPL believes its favorable orbital dynamics would allow it to be brought into orbit around Earth. Prior to touchdown of the probe, Ajax used laser spectroscopy to determine that Kadoma has large amounts of frozen water and gas. Other parts of Kadoma have high metal content which would be extremely valuable for space industry if they were brought to earth orbit. Finally, a few portions of Kadoma are carbonaceous and could also prove to be useful.
The hope is that Ajax can show that the frozen gases are of a quality which could fuel an “ion drive,” that could be used to shift Kadoma’s orbit. Such an ion drive would suck up an icy slush of volatile material, heat it into plasma, and use electricity from one of General Electric’s new fusion power plants to shoot ions out as a high velocity rocket exhaust. Ajax actually used an ion drive to get to Kadoma, though the electricity was supplied by solar panels.
Once Ajax has finished its survey, it will fire up its own ion drive to begin altering Kadoma’s orbit. Ajax does not have a powerful enough engine nor nearly enough fuel to make much of a difference, so a manned mission will have to be sent to Kadoma in order to actually harvest the icy gases and use them as fuel to try to bring the asteroid into Earth orbit.
Jimmy Ray watched the girl walking his direction along Columbia Street. He wondered whether she might be a good candidate for his, “I haven’t eaten for two days,” beg, or whether she might be more susceptible to a threatening approach. She was walking away from the University, so probably was one of those rich bitch college students who wouldn’t mind parting with some cash.
He chewed a lip as she got closer. She wasn’t dressed up like a sorority girl; in fact, her clothes looked kind of shabby. He’d just decided that she probably wouldn’t respond to begging and that he would need to go with threatening, when she turned in to the homeless shelter.
Crap, probably just as broke as I am,
Jimmy Ray surveyed the street. There weren’t any other likely prospects, so he turned toward the shelter himself.
Must be time for dinner, I could use a bite myself.
Jimmy Ray got in the food line. He had a couple of people between himself and the girl. With the better light inside he could see that the girl was thin. She just didn’t look it because her clothes were so baggy. The clothes looked old, but clean. They looked like the kind of castoffs many homeless wore, but hers looked like she laundered them a lot more regularly than the people around her.
He narrowed his eyes, considering. You didn’t have to prove you were homeless, or even
homeless to eat at the shelter. He felt certain she didn’t live on the street, and thought it unlikely that she stayed in the shelter. He’d bet she actually had a home somewhere, though she couldn’t have very much money or she wouldn’t be eating the kind of crap they gave out here at the shelter.
When Jimmy Ray got to the front of the line he was disappointed to see that it was a beans and cornbread night. Sometimes they had pretty good food at the shelter. Leftovers from bakeries and restaurants, a day old and stale, but still pretty tasty. Other times, like tonight, the restaurants didn’t have anything for them so they baked up big pots of beans and trays of cornbread.
It wasn’t that Jimmy Ray didn’t like beans and cornbread. Especially, if flavored with a little bacon or ham, the beans could be fairly appetizing. But, he’d be farting a lot later tonight and all day tomorrow.
Oh well, one good thing about living on the street. The wind carries it away.
Jimmy Ray went through the line, taking black beans, cornbread, a half an apple, and a day old Krispy Kreme donut. He liked the doughnuts, even stale. He looked around the room for an open chair. There was one across the table from the girl he’d followed into the shelter, so he took that one.
The girl had dyed her hair red, but it was growing out straw blonde roots. Jimmy Ray studied her, thinking that she would have looked better dishwater blonde than she did with the metallic red color she’d used.
No accounting for people’s taste,
he thought to himself. In fact, as he studied her, he realized that with her smooth, even features and elegant looking eyebrows she might actually be pretty. It was as if she was hiding that fact with the ugly red hair, bad haircut, and baggy clothes.
She kept her head tilted down towards the table, and Jimmy Ray initially had the impression that she only focused on her food. After a bit, he realized that, despite the tilt of her head, her eyes were roaming the room. He had the impression that she was checking on everyone in there. When her eyes came to him, Jimmy Ray smiled and stared back. He lifted an eyebrow in query.
As opposed to most people who Jimmy Ray caught looking at him, her eyes didn’t shy away. She looked him in the eye for a moment, then let her eyes slide over him in evaluation, then moved on to the man in the next chair.
What the hell is that all about?
Jimmy Ray wondered. He said, “Hi, I’m…”
She put down her spoon, picked up her tray, got out of her chair and left. Jimmy Ray saw that she’d eaten most of the food on her tray. She might have been about to get up anyway, but clearly he’d precipitated it by trying to talk to her.
Stuck up bitch!
She went out the door to the street, confirming Jimmy’s suspicions that she wasn’t staying at the shelter. As clean as her clothes were, she couldn’t be sleeping on the street. He suppressed his sudden desire to wolf down his food and follow her. Jimmy Ray was well aware of how he could easily get obsessed with pretty girls. Things he’d done to them in the past were a good part of why he was homeless.
If I get fixated on this girl, I need to be smarter about how I do stuff this time,
Tiona’s old beater of a Honda pulled up in front of the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro. She sat motionless for a while, arguing with herself about whether or not she should go in. She had her interview with Dr. Eisner in the morning and wanted to have a clear head for it. If she went into the Cradle, she knew she’d stay up too late, drink too much, and feel like crap tomorrow. But Ronnie’s band didn’t play here in town very often.
She opened the car door and headed for the ticket office.
Inside, she saw that the Riders hadn’t started to play yet. They were billed as starting at 9 o’clock, but it was 9:30 and they hadn’t even gone on stage yet. Tiona shook her head in frustration. Ronnie refused to play if there wasn’t any audience. On the other hand, his fans
he wouldn’t start on time, so they showed up late. Even Tiona, his “sort of” girlfriend didn’t show up on time. She often wondered if the Riders would keep starting later and later until eventually they didn’t play until three in the morning.
Tiona looked around at the smattering of fans in the room, bit off a curse, and headed for the so-called dressing room where she could expect to find the band. There weren’t any bouncers to stop her, so she opened the door and looked in.
Big Al looked up and said brightly, “Tiona!”
Al wasn’t tall, but he
big. An overweight, perpetually happy drummer, he always seemed pleased to see Tiona. Randy, their bassist, and Glenn, rhythm guitar, sat on the couch looking pissed. “Where’s Ronnie?” Tiona asked.
“Not here!” Glenn said angrily.
Big Al shrugged, “Said he wasn’t going to get here till 9:45 ’cause he knew there wouldn’t be enough of a crowd to play for until about ten.” He gave her a smile, “You gonna keep us company ’til then?”
In frustration, Tiona squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. When she opened them, she said, “Have you pointed out that he’s going to run off all your fans if he keeps acting like such a jerk?”
“Yeah!” Glenn barked. “Why don’t
“I have, I have. Goes in one ear and out the other.” She sighed as she stepped into the room, “Just like advice about how to treat his girlfriend.”
Al stepped over and gave her a little hug, “I don’t know why you stay with that guy. He treats you like shit!” Al leaned back and gave her a dramatic wink, “You should try someone like me. I’ll appreciate you.”
Tiona smiled weakly up at him and said, “You’re my backup plan big Al.”
He grinned at her, “Kind of like your vice-boyfriend? If someone bumps him off, I’m standing by, ready to take over?”
Glenn growled, “That could be tonight!”
The door opened and Ronnie came in, a stormy look on his face. “There are still only about twenty people out there! I told you the sons of bitches wouldn’t be on time!”
Glenn stood up. “Because
never here to start on time!”
playing to an empty house!”
is just going to get emptier until we put on a decent show that starts on time!” Glenn bellowed, giving Ronnie a shove.
“I’m teaching them
!” Ronnie said, shoving Glenn in return.
respects an asshole like you.” Glenn said with loathing. “Tomorrow I’m taking out an ad for a vocalist with a work ethic.”
Tiona felt astonished. The guys were kind of always on each other’s case, but she had no idea that feelings ran this strong. Glenn had founded the band and owned the “Riders” name, so in theory, he really could throw Ronnie out.
Ronnie said disgustedly, “Yeah, go ahead. As if the three of you combined had enough talent to wipe my ass.” He turned, jerked open the door, stepped out, and slammed it shut, without noticing that it nearly hit Tiona in the face when she started to follow him.
Tiona stood immobile, furious, trying to decide whether to storm after him. Behind her, Al said, “Hey, maybe you’re ready to promote me to full boyfriend?”
Tiona closed her eyes for a moment, then, without responding to Al, she slowly opened the door and left. Downstairs, she considered just going back to her apartment; then decided a beer would take the edge off her frustration.
As Tiona turned from the bar with her wheat beer, she heard several thumps on the kick drum. Glenn’s voice boomed out on the PA, “Hey guys, sorry we’re late. Our lead guitarist, Ronnie Winters is sick. We’re going to put on the best show we possibly can without him. Hope you like it…” Glenn started strumming the chords for one of the Riders best liked songs.
A minute later, Tiona cringed as Glenn started trying to sing the lead. Al was a better vocalist than Glenn, but lacked the confidence to sing anything but backup. Randy could sing pretty well, but had a high tenor voice. He provided an excellent high harmony, but when he sang lead it didn’t match the drive of most of the Riders’ songs.
Tiona had been wondering if the band actually did need Ronnie, but they
him in the worst way.
“Do they suck, or what!” Ronnie’s voice came over her shoulder as he put his hand on her hip.
Tiona froze for a moment, unable to believe that he didn’t recognize just how pissed off she’d be that he’d stormed off and left her behind. She considered ignoring him, or jerking away and storming off herself. She settled for giving a minute shrug.
going to put together a
better band than those assholes!”
It’s always all about Ronnie!
Tiona thought with disgust.
He hasn’t even stopped to wonder how I might feel about the band or him slamming the door in my face. Hell, he probably doesn’t even
he slammed the door in my face!
Oblivious to Tiona’s mood, Ronnie continued. “I’m only going to accept real artists. No more half-assed, ‘good-enough’ musicians. The guys in
band are going to be
, and I’m going to book us a tour like you won’t believe.” He tipped up his bottle and slugged back the last half of his beer. “Hey, buy me another beer and then let’s blow this dump before I
listening to those
Tiona turned her head to stare up at him. “Buy your own damned beer!”
Ronnie turned a startled, big-eyed look down at her. “Hey babe, what are you mad about? You know I’m not going to have much cash ’til my new band gets going.”
“What am I mad about?! Why don’t you give it some thought?!” Tiona continued staring angrily at him. She’d been going with Ronnie for several years now, always listening to his plans to “make it big.” She’d been drawn to his obvious talent on vocals and on guitar. His tall, raw-boned good looks hadn’t hurt her impression of him either, and should help him in the music business. She really thought he would have been successful by now if he didn’t drink so much and fight with just about everyone. Sometimes she thought his only chance for success lay in selling his songwriting. Other people playing his music wouldn’t have to put up with his
Ronnie’s eyes rounded and started to glisten. “My band just broke up, and now
dumping on me too?” Shoulders drooping, he slowly turned and started to walk towards the exit at the back of the Cradle.
Her inner voice told her to let him go.
Instead, after a moment Tiona stepped after him. Grabbing his elbow, she said, “Come on, I’ll buy you a damned beer.”
Tiona sat miserably outside Dr. Eisner’s office. She’d been going to have one beer, then go home and get some rest. Instead, Ronnie had dragged her from bar to bar, ordering beer for both of them while he justified the trip as an “exploration of the live music available in this shithole town.” He explained it as a way to find the kind of musicians he needed for the new band he was going to form.
Though Tiona told him not to order beer for her, he always did, claiming the bars would bounce them if they didn’t have beers in their hands. He told her not to drink hers, and she intended not to, but somehow managed to drink part of every one. He drank his, then the remainder of hers, getting progressively drunker. Half the time he acted the arrogant jerk, the other half he whimpered—a lost soul. Every time she was ready to leave the jerk behind, the lost soul called out for her mercy—then they wound up at another bar.
Now she had a hangover and had to talk to Eisner about a possible research assistantship in his lab. Ronnie was sleeping it off back at her apartment. She’d tried to roust him out before she left, but had given in to his sorrowful begging.
Tiona looked up, hoping her eyes weren’t as bloodshot as they felt. A pleasant looking white-haired man stood in the door looking at her. “Yes Dr. Eisner.”
For a moment Eisner studied the young woman sitting in his office. Slender, she had on a white blouse, black pants and a gray jacket. She wore low heels, and her hair was done up in a small bun. She looked pretty professional, except for the shiny red, low-quality, hair dye which had grown out about a half an inch. It had exposed blonde roots. He didn’t see any piercings or tattoos, but suspected that the kind of girl who had dyed her hair
color probably had some hidden away. She probably didn’t wear nice clothes like this very often either, he thought. She looked uncomfortable in them. Worst of all, the expression on her face made him think she had a hangover.
Oh well, tattoos, piercings, hair dye, crappy clothes. None of those matter! What matters is whether she can do the job—a hangover might suggest it could be a problem.
“So, Ms. Gettnor, my grant will fund one grad student. I can’t afford to hire someone mediocre. I need for that position to go to the very best person I can get. Someone capable of helping me push my research program along so that I can get another grant and fund another grad student.” He paused, “What do you know about what we’re doing here?”
“You’ve been studying electrical conduction in graphene materials…”
With quite a bit of surprise, Eisner sat back and listened to the young woman describe the research done in his lab over the past 5 to 10 years. She seemed to understand the potential that graphene appeared to have, as well as the difficulties that had been encountered so far. She even proposed three ideas she’d had for trying to improve the likelihood of superconduction in carbon monolayers. One had a glaring flaw; another, Eisner thought to be unworkable; but the third was… interesting.
Eventually he said, “Okay, Ms. Gettnor, I’m quite impressed with your diligence in reviewing the work we’ve done here. I have a couple more grad students to interview, though. I should get back to you before the end of the week.”
“So, we’re looking for volunteers,” Raj Mehta said. “You’ve seen the mission parameters, so you know this won’t be a walk in the park. There will be substantial dangers.
volunteer lightly. You’ll be out there for months and months, in a small tin can, eating crappy rations and drinking recycled piss. There’ll only be two of you and, even if you think you’re friends now, you probably won’t be after you’ve been locked up together in that little box for a while.” The project manager took a deep breath, “As you can tell, I’m
trying to sell this mission to you. I want you to
it’ll be unpleasant and that I’m worried you might not come back. All of you have said that you want to go on a mission, but this might not be the right one for you. No one’s going to hold it against you if you don’t volunteer for this particular one.” He drummed his fingers on the little podium a few times, then said, “You know how to submit your names if you’re crazy enough to do so.” He turned and left the room.
Zack White turned to Ralph Abbott and winked. “They might not hold it against us, but if we don’t volunteer
time, they might not
us next time.”
Ralph grinned back at him, “I’m signing up. Sounds like a blast, as long as I don’t get assigned to live with a jerk like you in that little tin can.”
Zack rolled his eyes, “I’m volunteering too, as long as they agree to pair me up with Sophie.”
Ralph frowned as if considering, then shook his head, “I’m pretty sure the poor girl hasn’t offended anyone badly enough that they’d assign her to a mission with
The two young men, roommates since they’d started in the astronaut program, continued giving each other shit as they got up to go submit their applications.
Tiona’s AI opened her apartment door for her and she stepped inside. The curtains were pulled and some kind of movie flickered on the screen at the other end of the room. A couple of dirty dishes sat on her table and she could see the back of Ronnie’s head over the top of her couch.
have let him stay here last night!