Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rings and Things

There were bright oval rings in the night sky and hysteria on the air-waves. Bernard Arden McKenzie had turned his radio off hours ago, preferring listen to Marion Call, some old Filk, science fiction folk music, or  the man in black, Johnny Cash, and finally he had dug up the entire audio version of 'Team of Rivals'. Listening to how the Illinois lawyer, born in Kentucky and plagued with misfortune and misadventure, had put together his ship of state, was all somehow soothing.

He had taken the long way home. It seemed somehow like he had been driving away, for years, and now that he had decided to come home that he'd driven down long, ancient valleys, into midnight hollows, past Indian ghosts of that first great American apocalypse which had made room for the pilgrims and others, had left a garden tended by one hundred million dead souls...

Bernard shook himself. "Morbid, much?" He said to himself, glancing in the rear-view mirror and catching a glimpse of his own ice-cold pale blue eyes, the brown and grey hair, the deep lines, worry and laughter. He chuckled. He had always been able to make fun of himself, which was good, considering most of his work.

He turned into his sister-in-laws' lane just as the night as giving way to day; daybreak. The last morning of the old world? He wondered, not joking, and not morbidly. He was anticipating something wonderful, come what may.

There was his brother's old car, and his nieces' graduation present, his old jeep. There was a big dark green rental SUV and a contractors' truck, plumbing and HVAC, Jack Knight's 'Sir Fix-A-Lot'. Bernard had a chuckle at that too, and paused, looking through the back of it. Plenty of kultch, but no junk; a place for everything and everything in it's place... He nodded with approval and turned to walk up to the door, which was just opening.

"Uncle Bernie!"

Bernard watched his niece come out of the house, running to him, and he felt unaccustomed emotion; a fierce pride, in his brother and his family. The kidlet had turned out alright... She hit him like a linebacker and he let out an 'oomph'. He braced for the bear-hug, for she was a hugger who put all of her strength into it. She'd done that at her Dad's funeral and almost bought him to his knees.

"Uncle Bernie," she whispered in his ear, and he felt her damp cheeks brush his neck.

"Why so sad, Beautiful? Busy Bee? Been breaking hearts?"

"You're horrible!" She said, laughing.

"You know I am; and you're Beatrice."

Her mom was on the porch now, with two men, one of whom Bernard knew well, and he sighed. The other was a young man with eyes only for his niece.

"Oh-ho, you have been taking hearts!"


"If I'd known so many people would land on my front step this morning, I'd have gone to the supermarket," Stella Mckenzie commented wryly. She indicated Special Agent Bruce Granger, of the FBI. "This is one of yours, I take it?"

"He's looking for me, is what he is, aren't you Bruce?" Bernard said, turning to Granger.

"I'm sorry as hell, Bear, but you really weren't that hard to find. I talked my boss into sending me, y'know..."

The young man said nothing, just stood clear. Granger and Bernard both noted how he moved and Granger stepped off of the porch, putting a few more yards between them, and moving a few yards closer to his charge.

"Would truly be a shame if things were to get any more complicated than they are, Bear," Granger said. Not a threat, exactly. Just voicing an opinion, or at least that was the way Bear chose to take it.

"I understand, but... can I at least have a little while?"

Granger blinked, and then he nodded. "Sure thing..." he said slowly. Both men turned to Stella, who saw that everyone was now looking to her.

"Well... breakfast, anyone?"


Mother and daughter, and boyfriend, headed into the kitchen, but not before Beatrice introduced Axel Knight. Bernard looked pointedly at the truck. "Who's Jack?"

"I work for my older brother, who owns the business. I've been working for him since high school."

Beatrice rolled her eyes. "Uncle Bernie..."

Bernard waggled his hand like a stage magician. "Look, no shotgun. Not pulling the male relative thing, sweetness. Not at all..." and he smiled at Axel, showing all of his teeth.

Axel coolly offered his hand to shake; firm, direct, and no bull-shit. "Beatrice thinks the world of you, sir."

"'Sir'?" Bernard winked at Beatrice. "You got a little something on your nose there, son."

Axel shrugged, a slight grin on his face. Bernard nodded to himself. The boy- man, the man just might do.

Granger brought in a little bag of oranges from the government issue sedan, and conceded to eating a few pieces of bacon, but otherwise acted like a man condemned to a death sentence by his doctor, sadlywatching them consume a magnificent country meal, home-fries and sausage links, a mountain of steaming scrambled eggs, pancakes piled high- Axel and Beatrice took over from Stella halfway through and she sat down with a sigh. "Such good appetites, except for you, Mr. Granger."

Granger shrugged.

"Go ahead and eat, man! It may be the last good feed you'll get for a while..." Bernard shut up as Granger leaned forward and he also saw that the Fed was not the only one looking at him expectantly.

"Would you care to elaborate?" The FBI agent asked with a grin.

"Yes, Uncle bernie, I know you know all about what's going on!" Beatrice was nodding vigorously. Bernard though about idols with feet of clay.

"I'd say that there is a need to know, but you wouldn't want me to disclose national secrets, would you, Special Agent Ganger?"

Granger shrgged again. "I've got NDA's in the car for them to sign, and a scary lecture prepped..." he looked Bernard pointedly in the eye. "And, yes, I think it's high time you briefed me on what I need to know to do my job."


Write about puppies and kittens...

I want to create gardens in space... habitats up there. Roll up a strip of the planet, a few tonnes of stuff/m^2.

For the truly massive abduction scenario, I assumed 10 tonnes/m^2, millions of tonnes strip-mined from the Earth's surface replaced by millions of tonnes of asteroid water... make it rain! 8-P

Final Rotoavator Ring design is 1/3 the circumference of the Earth, there are pi^3 or 31 of them, the strip is 1/3 divided by pi^12 or 14 1/2 meter, 47 feet wide, which rolls up into a cylinder just under 14 km wide and 14 km across (strip times pi^6, about 1K).

The Rings ease into position, dumping momentum simply by dumping or grabbing mass. The ring drifts back out by letting go of mass, water and structural cable. The 10 tonnes/m^2 is released at the top of the ride and goes into interplanetary space at just under 6 km/s. The strip is roofed over with a simple tall A-frame, all as part of the grabbing maneuver. Now that serves as a simple free-floating habitat, a long volume which is in free-fall, falling away from the planet. The next step, not the final step, is to roll this up into a cylinder. That is just a matter of shortening the edges of the strip, so that it starts to curl. Two edges slide past each other and 'zip' together, lapping itself every 45 km or so. Either a squat cylinder, or a long one about 10 times as long as it is wide, 4.5 by 45 km (1/3CotE/pi^7 by 1/3CotE/pi^5).

(much later 8-)

The sky opened up, with thousands of filaments coming down to Earth at great speed, spearing the ground inches apart. Bernard saw his niece and her beau running towards himself and the house, shouting as they came on. The filaments parted around Beatrice, fluffed out somehow, and wrapped her in a shroud. A curtain of filaments fell between them and Axel struggled through it to get to her. That was all the more he saw before the sky fell upon him.

But he could hear, muffled like a snowfall, the panicked yapping of the neighbors' dog, a horse whinnying in fear, Granger softly cursing and speaking with Stella inside the house. His obscured vision seemed to clear and Bernard had the distinct impression that the filaments themselves were emitting light like some sort of cloth display. He saw the filaments wrenching the two young lovers apart very clearly, as if he was only few feet away instead of across the yard, some forty feet from them. And then their fingers touched, brushed against each other and Axel lunged, grabbing her hand. The filaments seemed alive, self-aware, sentient or perhaps sapient, that is to say 'wise', and they ceased attempting to pull the two apart.

There was a groaning and the house behind Bernard lurched, pulled up into the sky, and then he went along with it, pulled softly but inexorably to the 'ground' by his own weight, now more than doubled, and Bernard would have nodded, if he could have.

"We're on our way..."

Things were quiet for a little while, perhaps a full minute, except for the yapping dog and a distant, whistling wind, and then Bernard heard a grunting coming his way from the house. "Granger, you damned fool," Bernard shouted as best he could, and the effort winded him. Finally he added, "Stay where you are!"

"I love you too, man," Granger said, adding, "But I'll manage, somehow. It seems to be getting easier. To move, I mean."

Bernard thought about that and then tried to lift his hand. It seemed almost as if- "They don't want the dumb animals to hurt themselves, so maybe they're assisting, like a soft exoskeleton?"

"Speak for yourself; I'm no dumb animal. I got me a degree from Shipp and everything..." Granger stopped to take a break. "Whew, this is too much like work!"

"Uncle Bernie!"

Bernard stared as Beatrice and Axel came crawling towards them at triple-time, the filaments not just parting but pulling them along until they were lying on the grass at the front porch.

"Alright, everybody just calm down... Stella?"

"I'll be with you shortly... the 'magic fingers' seem to be sending me out there to you," Stella said matter-a-factly, merely raising her voice a little, and presently she came into view.

"Anybody hurt?"

"I fell down on my ass..."

"I sympathize greatly with your ass, Granger, because it has to put up with you just like I do," Bernard said between clenched teeth. "I meant, no broken bones, anyone?"

It seemed that they all were in remarkably good shape and spirits, considering the mass abduction and all... The wind beyond the filament curtain had died away, and when Bernard looked over towards the edge of the lawn, about where Axel had been standing, it seemed like the land just stopped. Which it had. Beyond, falling away, was the edge of the Earth, the sky a pale band and black above that, the edge of space. They were already soaring up above it all, turning on the inside of a wheel which was pulling them to the outside with maybe a gee and a half of force, all the while the Earth's gravity was still dragging them back down a 'hill' that was growing steeper as the minutes passed. Bernard found that something, the filaments probably, was holding them in place as the hill went to thirty or forty degrees and then seemed to get less and less steep, all while the force pulling them to the 'ground' fell steadily away, and the bowl of the Earth changed into an enormous ball that grew ever smaller.

"Wow," Axel breathed.

"I agree," Bernard said. "Wow."

Then the bottom seemed to fall out from under them and they were free-falling into the sky. Bernard saw that his niece was looking at him and smiling.

"'Second star from the right, and straight on till morning!'"

"Love you, kidlet."

"Love you more, Uncle Bernie."

"Love you most."


Bernard felt a sideways tug, a very slight acceleration that went on for several tens of seconds and then died away. Where the filament curtain-wall that hemmed in their long and narrow world came together far above them that line brightened until it was sunlight strong. The starry black to either side turned. The Earth lay beyond them, almost beyond view, obscured as it was by the rest of the strip of the Earth's surface with which they'd been carried aloft. The crescent moon lay off to the side and ahead of them. It rose and set about once a minute and a very mild force now tugged him ever so gently to the grass again.

"I feel so light," Beatrice said to Axel, and then sprang up and up, shrieking and laughing, easily clearing the roof of house where she had been born and raised, and drifting back down lazily, light as a feather, like a leaf on the wind... She landed softly by the chimney and waved down at them.

"Come on up here," she called down to them. "The view is pretty-"

There was a bright, actinic flash and the filament curtain went dark off to one side, back behind them where the Earth lay; that way had been more or less South and so Bernard thought of it as 'South'. The dark patch in the sky moved as the strip habitat turned so slowly on its long, long axis; protecting precious cargo, stolen treasure, Bernard thought.

Beatrice came back down, clambering along by her finger-tips as the force pulling her down was not fast enough for her need to be with them.

"Was that what I think it was?" Stella asked in the general silence. Bernard only then realized that the hoarsely yapping neighbor-dog had shut up.

"If you think it was a nuke, then yes, it was," Bernard whispered. Granger futilely cursed the general stupidity of mankind. Thinking how a lot of people had probably just died, Bernard could not disagree.

"Who was it? Where was it?" Bea's voice had an edge to it which hurt Bernard's heart.

"It kind of looked like we were over Europe, maybe the Middle East," Granger said. "The French? Israel? Russia? Maybe it was Uncle Sugar," he added gruffly. Bernard reached around, grabbed his friend's shoulder and squeezed. Then Stella and her daughter caught him between the two of them and pulled Bernard and Axel into a group hug. Granger protested feebly and wiped surreptitiously at his eyes. He looked out at the lawn and saw the neighbor-dog looking looking hopefully.

"Oh great, we've been adopted..."


A place too far from here; a place too strange for human hearts...
There is, even yet, an alien compassion for us poor humans.
Perhaps they see something of themselves in us?
Do they hope for us, are they waxing nostalgic,
Perhaps, for a second childhood by proxy?
Or do we stand ready to redeem them in some way,
So like they were and fated to do them one better?

(even later on 8-)

"'I'm smiling because I'- I can't see the rest of his tee-shirt to read it all," Beatrice was saying to her mother. The little boy in the red tee was looking about tiredly, lost. There were dried tears on his cheeks. He looked to be about five.

"Honey, leave it be, things are- Beatrice!"

Bernard watched, bemused, as his niece marched right over. Axel fell in step with her, and their hands met, fingers interwove... He filed that sight away for some dark moment, some future need. There was bound to be something else, what with the mass abduction, the alien war between parties unknown, plenty of potential, always. He took the good with the bad, and knew to appreciate ever erg of good that came his way.

"What were you thinking?!"

"Hmm?" Bernard said helpfully.

"Why didn't you try to stop her?" Her mother wailed. The dismantling, piece by piece, of her home had been too much for Stella. Bernard pulled her over and hugged her.

"Stop her? Stop our goodwill ambassador to the worlds? Perish the thought. I might as well hold back the tide, or command the bee to not seek out the flower, the flower to grow, the sun to shine, the rain to fall; in fact, she is a force of nature. Human nature, and a force for goodness and light."

The little boy was smiling. Beatrice had knelt down and was wiping his face with a wet cloth. Axel stood by, taking a sip of water from their makeshift canteen, a one gallon plastic tea-jug. He slung it over his shoulder, adjusting the cloth sash Stella had come up with and considered the young woman and the child, a slight smile on his face growing. He nodded to himself. When Bea picked the boy up, he made horsy whinnies and the laughing child was transferred to Axel's shoulders. They galloped back over, Beatrice hurrying to catch up with them.

"I see we've picked up another stray," Granger commented quietly, for Bernard's ears alone.

"It seems like we have..." Bernard said, turning to his friend. "Are you going to tell her 'No'?"

Granger snorted and dug through his backpack, found an apple from the abandoned house they had raided. "Not gonna happen. Here, pass this along."

"Not brave enough to give it to her, yourself?" The two men laughed. Bernard reflected that they were an upbeat little band.

"In this little army, she ranks me."

'I'm smiling because I know I'm saved', the tee-shirt read. Bernard felt the pit of his stomach drop away, considering all the ways you could take that. It had been a bad couple of days, back on the third rock from the sun, back in the solar system.

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