Sunday, September 18, 2016

Young Mad Scientists in Love: "The New Team" - Part 3

Part 3 – Not for Love, But Maybe for Money

Doctor Braun Verne was a good looking man and he knew it.  He had a debonair about him, a flash, a swagger that just drew women (those who liked men), and men (those who liked men) alike.


Three women stood around as he lay under another woman’s car.  The owner stood next to the car worrying her fingers while the other three stood back far enough to get the view they wanted.

"What's he doing?"  Gladys, a full figured accountant asked Eloise, the woman whose car was being possibly upgraded.

"Who cares?"  Marge, a woman in a power pant-suit said.

The women admired Braun's faded blue jeans and cowboy boots sticking out from under the car.  In a fluid movement he pulled himself out and lifted himself up to a standing position.  Braun lit a cigarette and let it dangle from his lips.  

“There Eloise, next time you gas up your tank should be the last time you need to,” he ran a hand through his thick, wild hair.  The women unconsciously but audibly sighed.

“I don’t know what it is about him.  I mean, I can’t stand smokers,” Gladys whispered to Marge.  Braun heard them and siddled up to Gladys.  She thought he smelled so good and, "manly.”

“This is no ordinary cigarette.  I get my smokes from a friend of mine, Fred Neal.  They’re vitamin and pheromone cigarettes.”  He exhaled smoke past her ear.

Mary, the youngest and newest admirer leaned toward Eloise, “Isn’t this the janitor?”

Braun leaned toward Mary and flashed one of his thousand watt smiles, “Stationary Engineer actually.”

"What's that accent, French?"  Marge asked Gladys.

"German I think."

"Are you Australian, Mr. Engineer?"  Marge asked.

"If you'd like," Braun smiled at her and started to walk away.

"What did you do, exactly?"  Eloise asked, though Marge gave her a hard nudge for making Braun turn around.

"I can't tell you exactly, and I would certainly never tell you a tall tale about cold fusion."  He lifted his sunglasses and winked, then returned them and left.

"Cold fusion?" Eloise muttered.  The four women turned and approached the car.  It was just the opening Braun was waiting for.  He pressed a button on his tool belt and was instantly transported to his basement work room.

"Mr. Verne!"  Bob Ellgie was standing by the workbench with a device in his hand when the transportation alcove flashed like a lightning bolt party celebrating new years and roared like a train crashing into another train that was at the same time being crashed into by an airliner.

Braun stepped out of the cloud of steam the alcove had generated, his clothing and hair crusted with frost, "That’s new"

"What is that contraption?"  Bob roared.  Bob was a large man in height and girth.  He had been an NFL offensive lineman before his knee went.  He was the hair-trigger tempered regional manager in the office.

"What?"

"That thing with the lights and noise and smoke."

"That's not smoke, it's vapor.  I know what you're thinking, is vapor really safer than smoke.  I mean, they say it is, but aren't they just trying to sell you something and wouldn't they-"

"What are you talking about?"  It really looked like Bob's tie was going to pop right off his neck.

"Oh," Braun suddenly realized what Bob had in his hand when he noticed the big man's squeeze getting tighter on it.  "You really don't want to be squeezing that."  He stepped forward and gingerly tried to pry it out of Bob’s hand.  Their finger war was brief, but it gave Bob enough time to calm down.  Once his rage passed Braun was able to get the device loose and slipped it away.

“What was that?”

“What brings you down to my humble work area, Mr Ellgie?”

Bob didn’t know where the device had gone, but he knew enough that if Braun didn’t want him to touch it, it was probably something incredibly dangerous, and Braun would be verbaly as slipery as a greased pig if he tried to ask about it.  He let the matter slip and focused on the reason he was down there.

“You’re fired.”

“Wh-, wha-, what?”

It was the first time Bob had ever seen Braun speechless.  He savored it a moment and chuckled under his breath.  He rarely got the better of Braun with words and had never knocked him on his ass like this.  He felt a moment of pity.

“That’s not actually true.”  Braun relaxed his shoulders and gathered himself to rise again.  Bob realized he had to keep the initiative.

“You are let go, your position has been eliminated.  The company has decided to outsource the engineering, maintenance and housekeeping functions.  It was all done several levels over my head and is strictly financial in nature.”  His rapid fire sentences peppered Braun keeping him from getting to his rhetorical feet.

“Bu-”

“As soon as I found out I called everyone I knew and called in every favor, but it was too late.  I’m sorry Braun.”  He crossed his arms in finality.

Braun nodded and ran his tongue around his teeth.  He pulled out a cigarette and lit it.

"You can't-"

Braun held up a hand, took a long drag and blew out the smoke, "I'm a victim of my own success."  He shrugged and looked around the room.

"Upper management does feel that everything is running so smoothly they can hire an outside vendor to keep it at this level for a third the cost of-"

"Of me.  I get it."  He nodded.

"I am sorry to have you leave.  As much as you were a pain in my behind, I can tell that you were the one responsible for lowering operating costs 75%."

"How long do I have?"

"Today will be your last day.  You have until close of business to collect your things and leave."

"My things?"

"You will have to leave all company property of course.  You can take any personal tools, but you signed an intellectual property clause."

"Meaning anything I designed and built for the company is company property."

"Anything you got a patent for yes. It would technically be the company's patent."

Braun nodded broadly and dragged on his cigarette, "You have no idea what that is?"  He hooked his thumb over his shoulder at the transportation alcove.

"A steam-"

"And that device you had in your hand; no idea?"

"No."

Braun smiled cautiously.  He pulled out his cell phone and called his friend, "Hey Fred, Braun here.  About that job offer…"

Braun patted Bob on the upper arm, "I'll be out by lunch.  I'll just have to say goodbye to some of the ladies."

Friday, September 09, 2016

"The Case of Reverse Engineering" Part 3: Finale

This is the final installment of my original story, "The Case of Reverse Engineering."

For the previous parts go to PART 1 and PART 2

"The Case of Reverse Engineering" 
Finale

"Of course you could see from the photographs that there was something of a misunderstanding between our party and our visitor that led to hard feelings and some careless use of flammables.  It is unfortunately how the traveler eventually succumbed."

"How long was the visitor with you?"

"Motile?  About a week.  Some of the team were upset when it became clear that the visitor was not a lifeless carcass.  I suppose it went against some firmly held beliefs.  They couldn't reconcile the facts and their beliefs.  It was quite unpleasant.  But you asked how we survived the series of disasters that befell our camp afterwards and I can sum it up by saying that we kept our heads and maintained a low profile."


I could believe this guy could keep a low profile.

"How was it you ended up with the technology?"

"We were the only physicists left.  Of the six we had a meteorologist, a biologist, a pilot and a geologist besides ourselves.  It only seemed logical that we take it.  We were the most qualified of the scientist who actually saw it while it was working."

"Professor Melitene said it was found.  The visitor didn't work with you on it?"

"Did he say it was found?  That's odd.  Some of us worked with the visitor on the technology, although it was so far beyond our understanding we weren't much more than errand boys fetching things and holding lights and such."

"Did Doctor Blair work on it?"

"Certainly; he was indispensable, God rest his soul."  He looked at us carefully.  It was such a deep look that it stopped all questioning until he started it again.  "You do know he was a pathologist, not an engineer or physicist.  He was very keen on the visitor and kept very good notes though.  You worked on those notes didn't you, Doctor Gottschalk?"

"Yes.  How exactly did you communicate with the alien?"
Allouez smiled more broadly than ever, "You know, you three are quite impressive.  No one else in the room, or indeed in the whole time of this experience, has raised the questions you have.  Your curiosity is almost overwhelming.  I think I'm going to have to share something with you, but first I need to confer with my colleague.  Would you please excuse me?"

He didn't give us a chance to accept or refuse.  He slipped away and grabbed Melitene by the elbow.  They huddled for a few minutes.

"I know it sounds crazy," Gottschalk whispered, "but I just have to tell you two.  I think the only way Blair could possibly have written that diary is if he had been possessed.  I know that makes no sense at all and possession is impossible-"

"Doyle said, 'first you must eliminate the impossible and whatever you have left, however improbable is the truth.'"

"Regardless.  I can't think of any other way to explain it.  Almost anything Allouez comes back with will have to be more believable."

He and Melitene ended their conference with cautious smiles and thoughtful nods.  Melitene returned to his throng of well-wishers and Allouez returned to us.

"We've come to an agreement.  As long as you three commit to absolute secrecy I can tell you exactly how our visitor survived and how we communicated.  They are one in the same explanation."

We agreed.

"You have heard of Watson and Crick's description of the DNA molecule?"

We had all read the articles of the recent discovery

"All life on earth is based on reproducible molecules in the nucleus of cells that contains the necessary information for the creation and maintenance of all the cells in the life form.  This is universal and the most basic part of life on earth.  The alien has a completely different system.

"The alien's cells are completely malleable and subject to control of their shape and properties even after their formation, unlike earth life where the cells are created with a specific purpose and characteristics; and maintain those during their entire life.

"Because the alien can consciously control each and every cell at all times it is able to assume any shape, any characteristic as a whole entity."

"How does it control each cell consciously?"

"Every cell is an individual representative of the whole.  Every cell carries a little bit of consciousness."

"Every cell can think?"

"No, but every cell is part of the thinking process.  Because any cell can perform any function there are no dedicated nerve cells, no centralized nervous system.  The whole body is the nervous system.  The whole biomass works in the thinking process.  It's a network, like the neural network in your brain, except more extensive, more permeating, more holistic."

He was beginning to lose us.

"It's entirely more flexible.  It can adapt as an individual to any situation, given enough time and enough information."

"Evolution on an individual basis?"  Gottschalk suggested.

"More than that; because it can adapt over and over again, assuming any characteristics it needs."

"Looking like whatever it wants," Winkle said.

"Yes."

"Like a person?"

"Yes."

"Like you?"

"It could make itself into a copy of me, certainly."

"And it eats to gain mass as well as for energy, right?"

"Yes, very good point.  The alien can assume any shape as long as it has enough biomass to assume that shape.  It couldn't shape itself into a whale for instance if it is only man-sized to begin with."

"But everything it eats can be converted into these all-purpose cells, right?  So conceivably it could eat a whole whale as long as it converts the cells into its own kind of universal erector-set cells as it goes."

"It could."

"Every part of the creature is a whole unto itself and the creature is a network of cells that all communicate, right?  I'm not a scientist, but I do like to read a lot.  I thought the cells in our brain communicate through electrical impulses and chemical receptors.  How do the cells in these creatures communicate?  Telepathy?"

Allouez laughed quietly, "Exactly right; you are very astute Miss Kostka, by telepathy."

"Telepathy within an individual creature?"

"Within individuals and between them; all the aliens are networks within themselves and between every other of their kind."

"What about our kind?"  Gottschalk asked.

Allouez paused and then answered cautiously, "Yes, on some basic, limited levels."

"An alien could eat another creature and as it's eating convert the food creature directly into something like itself, then it could communicate to the new creature what it was thinking.  Wouldn't it be an exact copy of itself then?"

"Yes."

"Or it could make itself into a duplicate of the thing it just ate.  For instance, if I were an alien I could eat Doctor Gottschalk, and convert her cells all into alien cells, but when that was done we could communicate telepathically, like we had one brain and decide that her body would continue to look like Doctor Gottschalk and I would continue to look like me, but she wouldn't be Doctor Gottschalk anymore."

"Is that what happened?"  Gottschalk took up the questions, "Did the alien convert Blair into one of its own kind?"

Allouez smiled, "That is what we understand happened.  It was more than that though, don't you see?  The creature doesn't eat the way you are thinking, and it doesn't lose what was Blair to begin with.  It takes it up.  Blair became so much more than just Blair, but the new Blair was still Blair in some ways."

"The Ship of Theseus paradox?"

"Yes!  In the end you have two ships."

"And then two more," I said, "Until there's nothing but ships."

"No, no.  It's not like that.  The creature wasn't trying to replace the world's population, they thought it was, but that was an assumption Blair made.  They thought the creature wanted to replace them all."

"So you killed the thing."

"Not me, but yes.  It was paranoia, fear of the unknown."

"Fear of loss of individuality."

"Look, when you eat a cow the cow dies, but when the creature consumes another in this way the other doesn't really die.  Don't you think you would appreciate the cow more if you could learn what its life is like and it wouldn't die but join you as a thinking being?"

"But you killed it, the Blair thing and the others as well."

Allouez was quiet.

"You killed every telepathic cell of it; every cell that was a whole unto itself is gone now?"

He said nothing.

"Why was it building that backpack?  It wasn't sharing any technology, was it?  Why do you want to rebuild it?"

"We don't."

"They want to rebuild the starship," Winkle said.  Shit she was right.  The backpack was just a small version of what the starship ran on.  "You need the financial backing and the minds of the university to rebuild the starship."

"But if the alien isn't all dead why can't it build the ship?"  I asked.

"There wasn't enough left, was there?"

"Of course," Gottschalk said, "there were only scattered cells left, not enough to make anything like a sizable brain.  Even if every cell can be a brain cell, you need enough of them to really think."

"You would.  When we've built the ship the stars will be available to us all."

"We?  There is still an alien thing alive, isn't there?"

Allouez smiled again, "'That is not dead than can eternal lie.'  You don't need to become one with the visitor, but wouldn't you like to see the stars?  If still here wouldn't you want the visitor to be able to return home?"

"How would we know we're not being telepathically manipulated?"

"How can we be sure you don't want to replace everybody?"

"One or both of you is the alien thing, aren't you?"  Winkle asked the ultimate question.


"What if all six of us are; what would you do?"  He asked, and smiled.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Home Sick and Missed Meetings

I'm not feeling well today and it reminded me of the one time I was sick when I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 - 2005.

The story is, I was sick once and I stayed in bed all day.

That's it, not much there, but I think it may be noteworthy that it only happened once.  I think I was sick with a fever.

I did get sick in my stomach once leading to a day of running to the bathroom often, but I still went to work.

Mostly in Afghanistan I worked out of my office which was a tent adjacent to my sleeping tent, so apart from the fact the bathrooms were a hundred yards of so away in another place, it was pretty convenient for being sick.

I did miss one meeting once.  I just lost track of time and sat at my desk while the meeting took place three tents away.  We had set one tent up to be a conference room.  The crazy thing is they could have just come over and gotten me, but I had never missed a meeting before when I was on the base.  This was about seven or eight months into the deployment so I had a pretty good track record.  They all figured if I were missing the meeting I must have a good reason for it.

There was one other time when I missed a meeting.  Well, I didn't miss it exactly, I had to leave early.

We had once a week meetings with the Base Commanders and our 33rd ASG Commander, COL Havey by conference call and shared slides.  At work now we use Webex but I don't know what we used then.


We had five bases, Kabul, Bagram Air Field (BAF), Kandahar Air Field (KAF), an Air Base in Uzbekistan and my base, Salerno Forward Operations Base (FOB).  My base was the least developed and the most active.  We were attacked by rockets many times including our first and last nights.  The base in Uzbekistan wasn't even considered in the combat area.  They put their weapons in a vault from the time they arrived to the time they left.

We each had to give reports on many things including threat levels and responses.  My reports were usually on attacks, responses, bunker emplacement, barrier emplacement and perimeter security.

In one meeting the LTC base Operations commander of the Uzbekistan base reported they were implementing random threat level drills.  What this meant was they would go to a threat level each day.  One day they might be required to wear their body armor all day.   Another they might be required to wear just their helmets all day.

While he was reporting on this we got attacked by rocket fire.  I interrupted politely, "Excuse me colonel, I have to be signing off now.  We are getting attacked.  I'll report back when it's over."

The attack lasted about 45 minutes (if I remember correctly) and there were probably a half dozen rockets launched at us.  All the attacks seemed to blend together so I'm not at all sure about that.

At least it got me out of a meeting. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Interview with a Sangendrian

The 2016 modern summer Olympics is over and the concept is truly wonderful: nations gathering to compete in peace and amicability. There is one problem with the Olympics that was recently illustrated to me by a citizen of the country of Sangendria.


Sangendria is a very old and small country nestled in the far north eastern part of the Himalayas. Their country was not arable enough to sustain them so they became great traders, craftsmen and diplomats. They imported raw materials and exported finished goods. Disputes were brought to them and they adjudicated. Treaties were brought to them: and they edited and negotiated. Many trade routes went through their country because of ease of passage as well as splendid way-stops. They were known as far back as Roman times.

They have maintained their traditional culture through to modern times and it includes two peculiar aspects: their religion, a pantheism based on tree veneration, and a completely lacking distinction of genders or sexes.

It is this last aspect of their culture that has kept them out of every modern Olympiad, they can neither compete in the men's events nor the women's.

I recently spoke with Choris by Skype because I had been doing some research about countries that have not or do not participate in the Olympics. I found Sangendria in Wikipedia and then on facebook. Choris is the moderator of the Sangendria facebook page and was delighted to grant me an interview and quotes for this blog.

Choris is a young adult whose long hair is pulled back in a braid and has no facial hair. I couldn't say if Choris was clean shaven or just had no dark hair on the face. There really were no characteristics I could see to indicate any gender role nor physical sex. Choris never indicated a physical sex nor gender role to me.

Me:        Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I'm sure there are many people who would be interested in learning about your culture.

Choris:   I'm very happy to do it. I'm sure the thing that is most interesting to you is what is most interesting to me about your cultures, the idea of gender roles and sexual categorization. I think we Sangendrians may be unique in this.

Me:        I don't know of any other culture that does that. First I have to ask, and please don't think I'm rude, but are their no physical genders in your culture group? How do you reproduce? Are you physically different from other Homo sapiens?

Choris:  [laughed] That is really three questions, but I know the confusion that underlies all of them. We are no different physically from any other Homo sapiens. We do reproduce sexually just like everyone else, but we don't categorize people by their physical sexes. When two people have sex they might produce a baby and they might not. Some couplings of people are more likely to produce offspring than others. Sexual intercourse has many functions and reproduction is only one of them.

Me:       There is no mandate in your religion to be fruitful and multiply?

Choris:  No.

Me:       Do you have marriage?

Choris: We do have an institution that is very similar to your marriage. Two people pledge allegiance to each other completely, exclusively and in perpetuity. This includes sexual rights and responsibilities.

Me:        Do you have things like homosexuality?

Choris:  That is rather meaningless to us. Each individual has a preference for what they like sexually, this includes physical attributes as well as intellectual and emotional attributes. We see everyone as having many aspects and each of these in many varying degrees. I have studied other cultures and your categories interest me greatly. I do see some advantage in, "packaging" people with many predominantly similar features. Women have breasts, and female reproductive organs; and are generally smaller. This is true of a large majority, perhaps over 90% so it makes a lot of sense to make a category so people can use it as a sort of shorthand. For instance a person can say, "I like girls sexually" and find others who also have this preference to discuss things with and find appropriate mates with. It is much more flexible for us, but also more difficult.

Me:        Because no one can make assumptions.

Choris:  Yes. This is a great disadvantage most of the time, but does allow for things that your cultures have trouble with, like "alternative lifestyles" and intersexed people. You really have no easy way to address or deal with people that don't fall into the categories you set.

Me:        You see sexual categories as too limiting, but you also see a lack of them as limiting as well.

Choris:  Yes. It is my culture so I have a bias toward it, but humans do tend to categorize things, we do it for everything. If I tell you I'm looking at a bird, what characteristics do you think the thing has?

Me:        It probably has feathers and wings and flies.

Choris:   Right, but and that's true of most birds, the vast majority in fact. But, of course there are flightless birds that don't fit the category. It works the other way too. If I see a new animal I would look at its characteristics and try to categorize it. This works very well usually, and makes things a lot easier in many cases. There are exceptions and people can go too far, like Diogenes' chicken.

Me:        Or the Olympics.

Choris:  Yes. We cannot participate in the Olympics because we can't really draw the line grouping people into men and women.

Me:        You can't just take the characteristics and apply them, assigning your athletes at least temporarily?

Choris:  We can, we aren't stupid, but we are very uncomfortable with it. It just doesn't sit well with us. We neither want to categorize people that way nor do we want to be categorized.
Me:       What makes it so uncomfortable? If it is someone else's category you don't have to feel that you are that category.

Choris:  It is so ingrained in your cultures that it is really what you see those people as. It is who they are. I am me, not a man or a woman or something else. If someone tried to take away your individuality you would be very upset.

Me:        Yes I would. I hope you don't take offense.

Choris:  I don't. I know this is a very difficult concept to understand.

Me:        And we haven't even discussed gender roles!

Choris:  Of course gender roles stem from the physical sexes so it makes sense to talk about them first. They are very closely related.

Me:        The whole topic can be confusing and I wonder if it is more confusing with the categories or without. I have run out of space for my blog post thought so I'm going to split the interview at this point. Can talk about gender roles when we come back?

Choris:  I'd like that very much.

Me:        Thank you for your time.

Choris:  Thank you.

This was of course a fictional interview. I wanted to conduct a thought experiment with the idea of a culture that has no sexes nor genders. I thought the idea of an interview would be a good way to do it. I have no formal training in gender studies. My background is a BA in Anthropology and autodidactic reading. I meant no offense to anyone.

I hope you found the concept interesting and I apologize if I have offended anyone. If you would like me to post the second part of the interview let me know and I would be delighted to.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Young Mad Scientists in Love: "The New Team" - Part 2

Part 2 – Congratulations Doctor Neal You Do Not Get Tenure

”Doctor Neal, may I speak with you?"

Fredrick Neal was standing in his lab, examining a microscope.  He was well built and athletic without being bulky.  He had perfect skin, perfect teeth and a fantastic head of hair.  He looked up with his glorious golden eyes and smoothed his magnificent mustache.


Cassandra Jones was thin and tall, not thin and tall like a wire guided antenna, but more like Seattle's Space Needle.  Her exoticness extended to her voice.  It reminded Neal of a predatory bird's scream or a German dive-bomber.  The woman made him flinch whenever he heard her voice.

"Yes, Ms Jones," Neal shuffled on his stool, fear obvious in his voice. 

"Doctor Neal you may be the most intelligent person in the university, and that is saying quite a bit," she sauntered toward him.  For a moment his fear took a back seat as he marveled at the giraffe-ntile way she moved.  The pendulous swing of her legs was almost hypnotic.

"Well, thank, thank you very much, Ms Jones."

"Oh please stop calling me that."  She took a few steps to stand across from him and leaned over the table like a cantilevered crane.

"What would you like," he said as she put a finger on his chest, "What would you like me to call you?"

"You know, you are really the most adorable little man, perfection in miniature."

"It's more efficient, and adds in life extension.  I, uh designed the treatment myself."

"I could just eat you up," she licked her lips and he hopped off the chair backwards.  Though this left him a straight-line view just below her breasts, it also made use of the stool as a barrier.

"It is a rather complicated procedure.  It involved genetically modifying virus RNA, not just to cause the desired effect in the patient, but to modify the behavior and propagation of the viruses.  If you would like I could-"

"Cass," she said as if she were putting a finger over his mouth with only the word.

"Um, excuse me?"

"You asked what you should call me. You should call me Cass."

"Oh, um thank-"

"Often, and immediately."

While his mind worked at that she held out a long hand and helped him back onto his stool.

"I would love for you to give me, the treatment.  That's not why I came down her though." She turned away and hung her head.  He said nothing as she took a few steps down the table to retrieve her clipboard.  She looked at it and composed herself.  When she turned back to him she couldn't fight the smile that spread across her face.

"Oh, you are just too adorable the way you shrink back in terror like that."

"You're a very-"


"Stunning?"

"Intimidating woman."

"Yes, power can have that effect."

"Right, power, that's exactly what it is."

"I mean, as the Dean and head of your department I hold a lot of power over you."

"Yes."

"Like I could come in here and tell you that you don't have tenure and you won't be getting it," she forced a chuckle and batted at his shoulder, feigning playfulness.  He was quite surprised she could reach that far as she was several steps away.

"Wait, are you telling me I'm fired?"

"Let's call it an opportunity for us to take our relationship to a more personal and maybe intimate level."

"What?"

"Well, as the head of your department I am your boss so it would be conflict of interest and maybe sexual harassment for us to, I don't know date."

“So I’m fired, after all this time.  Thank you very much.  How long do I have to get my stuff and get out?”

“You’ll have to finish teaching your classes.”

“The whole rest of the semester?”

Jones opened and closed her mouth twice.

“Well, Ms Jones, you know what?  You can just screw yourself.”  He stepped off his stool as dignified as anyone could and stormed off.  Actually, given his size it was more of a gentle sun-shower.

At the door he paused and looked back at her.

“But-”

“Screw yourself.”  He slammed the door.

“But that’s what I wanted you to do.”

Friday, August 12, 2016

"The Case of Reverse Engineering" Part 2

See this link here for part I.


"The Case of Reverse Engineering"
Part 2


I took a long look up at the head table.

"Only six out of thirty seven survived?"  Winkle said.  Gottschalk nodded.

"And brought out the technology everyone was fighting over?"  I asked.

"I don't think Blair's diary went that far.  After what I think was a few days it eventually all became unreadable gibberish and then what I think was alien language.  That all would have been within the timeframe before the USAF was alerted."

"Then how do you know?"

"I got curious so I asked.  For my trouble I was told to shut up, mind my own business and then they took the materials away.  After that, I put in a few calls to some buddies of mine from the Army Air Corps days.  I got records of Air Force signals traffic reports.  The way I figure it, they were sending dummy signals for about a week before they put in a distress call.  That matches the Blair diary.  Then there was some normal traffic that started being more and more couched and cryptic until right before the flyboys got there to find half the place burned.  They never reported any fires or any additional deaths."

"Excuse me again, gentle people," Ferrini was speaking again.  "There will be two parts to our presentation today.  The second part will be a question and answer session for everyone to participate, but before we begin that part we will have a, well I hesitate to call it a lecture, a slide show from our honored guests.  I'd like to go ahead and get that started while everyone is enjoying desert and coffee.  Could we please draw the curtains?"

The same phalanx of porters who had surreptitiously locked the doors moved over to the giant windows and closed out the midday light.  The room was momentarily lit only by the exit signs, the centerpiece Jacob's Ladders and a sliver of light coming under the kitchen door.  There was a shuffle at the head table before a small light was turned on at the lectern.  It barely illuminated Professor Melitene's pudgy face and shoe-brush mustache.

"Erm.  Thank you President Ferrini, ladies and gentlemen," he began with a voice a full octave lower than I expected, "You can go ahead and start-"

He was talking to the porter handling the projector who turned the machine on and a huge screen against the wall lit up with a white and black photo.

"Uh, thank you.  This is Antarctic Research Facility Number Four."

"Before the fire," Gottschalk hissed.

"Last year Professor Allouez and I had the privilege of conducting some magnetic research at this facility.  In the process of our studies we discovered a magnetic anomaly, er next slide please.

"This anomaly turned out to be a structure we believe was a mode of transport capable of traveling in space, a spaceship if you will.  You might even call it a starship, because, as I'm going to try to show it was most likely capable of traveling the immense distances between our solar system and the planetary systems around other stars."

There was quite a bit of mumbling around the room.  Several more photos clicked in procession.

"As you can see from these photos the craft was extremely large.  In an effort to excavate the starship we inadvertently caused a fissure to open in the ice structures in which it lay.  It slipped irrevocably into the crushing depths of the crevice, well beyond anyone's ability to even reach let alone study, I'm afraid."

There were several outcries including, how do you know, why did you bring us here then and couldn't it have been a submarine.

"I know what you are all thinking.  Please rest assured we are completely certain this was not an artifact of earth.  We also know it could not have been any less than ten million years old; more likely twenty, million years old."

Silence fell.  There was probably nothing more shocking than this news, except the next thing Melitene said, "We also found the body of one of the starship's occupants."

This led to gasps around the room.  Gottschalk gripped the table with white-knuckle intensity and her eyes looked like they would fall out of her head.

The photo changed to one with a block of ice a dozen feet long and more than a yard on the other sides.  It was surrounded by men, including Melitene.  If Allouez was in the picture he wasn't recognizable.

"This is the creature we found."  There were several more shots of the ice block from different angles and eventually in a storage room.

"In an effort to study the remains more closely we thawed the carcass slowly for over twenty four hours.  The creature we found was determined to be of a life form and a biological system utterly alien and distinct from all life forms on earth."

"Bullshit!"  Lon Vandergriff stood at his table.  He was one of the most prominent alumni from Pattell.  He had made his own fortune from mining and steel.

"Pardon me?"

"You're talking about aliens and spaceships, but where is the proof?  You lost the ship.  Where is this alien body?  What technology could you have gotten if you lost the ship?  What did you do, wake the alien up and ask him?"

"Yes, yes we did."

The room went dead silent.

"What?  What did you just say?"

"I realize this will be difficult to believe," he stopped and pushed his glasses up.  He glanced at Allouez who nodded.  "You must understand that the creature was a lifeform completely different than any earth lifeform, apparently not subject to some of the limitations of earthly life."

"Are you implying you found a twenty million year old alien carcass and it was still alive?"  Vandergriff roared with laughter, then reached down and pulled his wife to her feet.  "Sybil we are leaving and canceling any monies we had allocated to this sham of a school."

A photo of a vertical and moving alien body appeared on the screen, larger than life.  A woman screamed.  Another appeared and a third.  They weren't the best quality, with the fire, the dead dogs and the men fighting for their lives.

"We had some trouble bringing the, sample, back for a more thorough examination and continued research."

The slide show had to be stopped for a few minutes because several attendees fainted.  The screen went blank to reset everyone's brains.  The room was still dark otherwise and many other attendees made their way through the gloom to the bar, insisted on getting drinks, downing them and getting another before returning to their seats.  

"What the hell is going on?"  Winkle asked us.  "This can't be real."

Gottschalk was no help.  She was moving her eyes around, reading some imagined script while her lips moved and her hands trembled in their grip on the table.  "Could this possibly mean..." was all that I got from her.

"I would be inclined to think this is all an elaborate hoax of some sort, but why something so far-fetched?  The starship wasn't even saucer shaped.  It looked more like a zeppelin."

"I assure you, Mr. Richman this is no hoax."  Allouez was standing behind me and spoke with a smooth, silky voice.  It sounded almost as if it were coming from inside my own head.  I turned to look at him, trying to use the light from the white lit screen to see him as well as possible.  He was an unremarkable man, middle fifties and average in every way.  He even wore the plainest suit and tie possible.  The man could have blended into a crowd of two.  He smiled and walked away.

"There are some forms of life in Antarctica that are viable during the brief summer months and freeze most of the rest of the year," Melitene was continuing the slide show.  The screen showed a series of microscopic life, algae, lichens and fungus.

"We suspect the alien creature had a similar method of coping with the extreme cold.  It was most likely the cold that allowed it to maintain some integrity through the eons.  The cold and length of stupor may, however have contributed to the, rather inhospitable manner in which we interacted with it.

"In the end the creature perished, and unfortunately so did a good number of our party."

The screen went blank again and there was a long pause.  In the silence I heard Gottschalk muttering, "No, no, that's just not possible.  There must be some other explanation," then she went back to her internal review.

"The next part of my briefing is extremely confidential.  I must ask that anything I say or show you going forward not leave this room."

"This next part?"  Winkle whispered.

"During our far too brief encounter with the interstellar visitor, some progress was made in recreating part of the creature's technology, namely a small model of the propulsion unit, or engine if you will, and the power-plant to support it."

The photo on the screen showed a man in a backpack clearly floating several feet above the floor of a shack.

"The model, built with the help of our visitor, was fully functional when found, unfortunately there was an accidental fire and, along with more loss of life the machinery was damaged beyond repair."

Allouez and two porters had brought a large wheeled table from behind the dais and unveiled it as the lights came back up.  On the table were the charred remains of the same backpack in the photo and some sort of generator or projector.

"We have started the process of analyzing this technology with help from some of the good people in this room, but we have a long way to go."

Ferrini stepped up and bent the microphone away from Melitene.  "This is why we invited all you marvelous benefactors.  We ask that you-"

He was giving his usual spiel for money and I tuned him out.  "Wink, what do you make of this?"

"If this weren't your alma mater I'd say it's all snake oil."

"It's not snake oil," Gottschalk pushed herself away from the table.  "I've been going over all the times and dates, everything I know from the documents and the Blair diary.  I can't make it add up.  I don't see how it could have been done."

"It sure as shit didn't look like cooperation in those photos," I said.

Most of the room was either in shock or awe.  There were many who gathered around the table of technological remains and others who clung to the bar like a life raft.

"I want to talk with Melitene, by God," Gottschalk said.  He was near the table, surrounded by a throng of question askers.

"I'm after Allouez," Winkle said and moved off.  The invisible professor was near Melitene but being ignored.  Winkle smiled at him and got him to the side, near a still curtained window.

"Professor, I have some questions, if you please."

"Certainly," he smiled.  Of course he smiled.  He had just unveiled the scientific find of all time and he was talking to the prettiest girl in the room.  Gottschalk slid up behind her.  He glanced at us and returned his gaze to my partner.

"Professor," Winkle began, but Gottschalk interrupted.

"How did you two pansies get out of that camp alive?"

"I'm sorry?"

This clearly wasn't the tack Winkle was going to take, but she got the weather gage and drove on.  "What Doctor Gottschalk is referring to is the fact that only six men from the original complement of thirty seven were rescued from the camp and a good deal of it was on fire when the Air Force finally got to you.  That must have been quite a struggle for you."

Allouez's smile broadened, "It certainly was quite a story."


"Spill it," I suggested.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

A Quick 20

I was visiting a facebook page for the 133d Signal Battalion of the Illinois Army National Guard today (it's a private group, but I can send the link if you are interested in joining).  It reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad.

One day in my junior year of high school I came home from school and Dad was in his room getting dressed or undressed (with his rotating shift it could have been either).  He called me up and asked me how I was expecting to pay for college.

I was sixteen at the time, but there had never been any question about whether I was going to college or not, I was going.  I don't remember ever deciding that, I just always knew it.  What I never considered was the cost.

I had always known I was going to have to pay for it.  I don't remember it myself, but Dad always reminded us that the day we each came home from the hospital after being born he took us around the house and showed us the place.  He then told us the rules and baptized us in the kitchen sink.  Among the rules was the fact that he would not pay for our college.

My answer to Dad that afternoon was, "I dunno," with a shrug.

"Well, you could join the Guard.  The Illinois Guard offers a full scholarship to  any state school."

To this I responded, "Yeah.  That's what I'm going to do."  Done deal, decision made.  No problem.

"You can just do  a quick twenty and get out."

A quick twenty?!  I was only sixteen.  I hadn't even seen twenty years yet.  I was far less committed to that idea than the idea of enlisting to pay for school.

"What do you want to do in the army?"  Dad asked.

"Drive tanks or fly helicopters," I said with a mighty, manly grunt of youthful testosterone.

"Well Illinois doesn't have any armor units, but I'll check into finding you an aviation unit."

True to his word of course he found me a unit, the 1903d Helicopter Maintenance Company.  The main part of the unit was based out of Midway airport and they had a detachment in Decatur.

In November of that year I turned seventeen and on January 14, 1984 Dad and I got in the car to drive to the recruiting center on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  A few blocks after leaving our house we stopped off and picked up  Jac Charlier.

Unknown to me Dad must have had a similar talk with Jac.  He and I enlisted together that day and in 2007 I retired after doing a, "Quick" twenty three years.