Don Pearson sat on his small asteroid watching the unblinking stars framed by the blackness of space. The only light he saw came from the denseometer screen, the space radar display, and he readout of the IR Spectrometer The steady stars always drew his attention from his instruments. They were simply too grand a display to ignore..
The air lock door opened to reveal his space-suited partner, Dr. Dion Druthers. Dion was a big man full of big ideas "Anything good on?" kidded Dr. Druthers. Drutherís six foot two inch massive frame dwarfed Donís five foot nine inch slim build. Drutherís scraggily red beard made him look intimidating, but Don had the utmost respect for him as a man of knowledge and mild demeanor.
"Nothing you havenít seen before," replied Don. "Weíve had a steady run of average masses around 2500 kg/m3, one really dense one around 7700 which is a close match for iron. No water signatures on the IR Spec." Don shook his head to sweep his long blonde hair out of his eyes.
.""Anything of decent size on space radar?" asked the disappointed Dr. Druthers.
"Only the iron candidate," replied Don. "It was about 4 cubic miles and very likely was a cluster of smaller partially gravitationally bound bodies." Don sensed his disappointment.
Druthers had a theory, one he was determined to prove. Like many scientists Druthers believed that the thousands of asteroids in the belt were the fragments of a planet between Mars and Jupiter that had failed to fuse into a single body, or fragments of a body that had broken apart . Druthers also believed that somewhere in this enormous pile of space rubble that there existed a huge body composed of ice. These were the frozen remnants of a large body of water that once occupied this fragmented world. So far he had discovered no trace of what he called his iceteroid
After seemingly endless hours of asteroid monitoring, Don too was beginning to have serious doubts that the icezoid existed. What a way to spend my 28th year, nearly all of 2221, thought Don..
Then Druthers got an idea. Their base was located on a tiny asteroid located on the belt rim of the Jupiter side of the Asteroid Belt. Naturally they had directed their monitoring back into the near side of the belt where the asteroids were the most numerous. What if they directed monitoring outward into what was apparently almost barren space? he thought. He knew that the targets would be few in these outer orbits, but it was worth a try. They certainly couldnít do any worse than their current track record.
"Don. I want you to orient all sensors to the opposite side, what you see as open space," ordered Dr. Druthers. "We just may be looking the wrong way."
Don was puzzled. "Didnít we set up on this rock because it had the farthest orbit on this side of the belt? What makes you think that the space tugs missed something so big on survey?"
Druthers paused, then answered. "Maybe they werenít looking for something so big as I think the icezoid really is. Maybe the icezoid was on the other side of its orbit, 180 degrees out of their scanner range. Just call it a hunch, and humor me, Don."
Muttering to himself, Don slowly changed the orientation of the monitoring equipment to the deep space side. "There you go, Doc. Maybe I can get some sleep now.í
Just about then an alarm sounded on space radar. "Itís a hit, Doc!" shouted Don excitedly. ĎAnd from the looks of it, itís a big one! The initial graphics indicate a single body some 10 miles in length in your target density range of 931 to 1000 kg/m3! And look at the IR! There are water lines all over the screen! Itís skinny, though. Itís only 1/10 of a mile wide and 1/10 of a mile thick."
"Donít get too excited yet, Don," said Druthers calmly. "ĎHave the space tugs send out the swarm to those coordinates.í
The swarm was a collection of small robots, Each one would attach to a different point on the target object and release burrowers that would give them precise readings of the objects internal density.
"Right away, Doc," shouted the excited young Don.
They both anxiously peered at the computer screen awaiting the numbers. After a 30 second interval that seemed like an eternity, the numbers began filling the screen. "There all slightly less than 1000 kg/m3!"shouted Don excitedly. "That thingís a solid block of ice! Looks like weíve found your icezoid, Doc."
Doctor Druthers clinched his fist and simply said "Yeah!" "Now comes the hard part, Don. Track the orbit of our object and radio the information to the tugs. Theyíll need it to intercept and carry out the next phase of my plan"
"And that would be?" asked Don
Letís go back inside and shed these suits. I have a lot to talk to you about and we may as well be comfortable. Druthers led the way back inside the ship and removed his helmet. "There, thatís better. Pull up a chair, Don and be prepared to be entertained by an aging scientist."
"Iím sure it will be interesting coming from you Doc Whatís up?" asked Don,
Druthers took a long breath and began. "Another question first. Have you ever head of S.I.N.?"
"The disobedience to God, or the scientific development?" joked Don.
"Weíll stick with the scientific definition f or the purpose of this discussion, S,I.N is an acronym for the Solar Ion Needle, a space-based laser of sorts, an ionic scalpel that focuses the power of the solar wind. Anyway, itís like a giant laser beam.. I hate to answer a question with a question, but in the interest of time, I guess itís time for you to know what this is all about. What do you know about the Intercontinental Pipeline?"
"Not much," said Don. "Itís the largest aqueduct ever built. It was built to transport water from Lake Superior to California and points West. Itís usage was never maximized because of various negative effects that the removal of so much content would have on the Great Lakes and the surrounding wetlands. Superior is being effected by a dought. Rainfall accumulations over the three years from 2001-2004 caused Superior to reach low water levels not seen in decades. It still represents 10% of the worldís fresh water. Why?"
Dr. Druthers spoke directly. "Suppose I told you that the President had charged me with the responsibility of meeting the public and irrigation needs of the rapidly growing West?"
Don said "Iíd say you have a near impossible task."
"You seem to be remarkably well informed about the status of Lake Superior," said Druthers.
"Itís your fault for leaving those National Geographic magazines laying around,"said Don.
"Well despite the 200 rivers feeding it and the quintillions of gallons of water that it contains, weíve got to supplement it."
"This I gotta hear," said Don.
Dr. Druthers continued. "We have to develop a system to replace the volume of water that we pump out into the Intercontinental Pipeline. I think we can using the icezoid, well a piece of it anyway.
"Itíll have to be a fragment, doc, thereís no way to splash down that much mass," offered Don.
"Not at one time," admitted Druthers. "I have arranged for the space tugs to attach themselves to the icezoid and tow it into a stable polar earth orbit, some 800 miles high. There they will use S.I.N. to to slice a 528 ft. segment. It will form-"
"A cube!" interrupted Don.
"Thatís right, a cube 528 ft. on a side representing 147,197,952 cubic feet or 1,148,144,026 gallons of fresh water! Weíll have to run the main Pipeline intake pumps for over 3 hours at 100,000 gallons per second to handle this volume."
"Whereís all the power for the pump coming from?" asked ever curious Don.
"Theyíre running a special dedicated line from a Niagara generator plant. Weíll supply our own juice for the lasers."
"Lasers?" questioned Don.
"Oh yes, there will be three broad-beam lasers each mounted on a 100 ft. tower on the shoreline near the splash down site. And guess who gets to design the Power Towers?" joked Dr. Druthers.
"Not the only double E in this conversation," grinned Don.
"Right for ten points and a chance to play our bonus round. Want to hear my thoughts on bringing this ice cube down?" asked Druthers.
"Well, we have to coordinate closely with NASA , JPL, and the space tugís crew. The first challenge will be the installation of a battery of anti-gravity generators on four sides of the cube. The sides of the cube wonít require much thrust, only a minimal amount for mid-course corrections. The front face and the rear face are where the large clusters of anti-grav thrusters must be mounted on the cube. They will be responsible for slowing the cube down during re-entry, and supplying final braking thrust prior to splash down."
"The reentry corridor will be absolutely critical to bringing the ice cube down precisely on target.. Without the anti-grav generators, the cube would weigh 9,529,595,412 lbs. or 4,764,797.706 tons.. So you see how fast it would be coming in and the incredible amount of potential energy that itís going to exert on splash down! There wonít be much maneuvering going on once that thing hits the atmosphere. You do know that anti-grav will shut down at 100 feet. Itíll just be boosters from there.. We still donít know why our anti-grav generators shut down at 100 ft. We think that the
Earthís gravity just overrides them at this point. Oh well, the technology is only ten years old."
"Whatís the size of our target zone?" asked Don.
"A circle twenty miles in circumference at the center of the lake," answered Druthers..
"And Iím supposed to design Power Towers to cope with those forces?" questioned dazed Don.
"I doubt we can contain it." admitted Druthers.:"Just grab what energy you can as the blast wave passes and weíll hope distance does the rest of distributing the tremendous forces The thick granite bottom will have to do the rest. Weíre not out to build a power station here, Don. The important thing is to get the icezoid fragment down. Right now, sleep cycle starts in five minutes so why donít you think about it some more and weíll talk about it again tomorrow.í Doc got up and headed to bed..
Don just sat there and stared into space for about ten minutes, crazy numbers dancing through his
brain. Then he just shook his head, and headed off to bed, not expecting to sleep very well.
" Oh yeah," said Doc back peddling into the room. "I almost forgot. I just invented a new composite material of cement and plastic that can be extruded and dries harder than steel. Thought you might find some use for it in your tower design. It also has a secret polymer in it."
"Boy, Iíll say!"said Don. "You never fail to amaze me, doc."
"Oh well,. weíll compare notes in the morning," said doc finally headed for his cot "Iíll have to leave them detailed instructions on how to make the stuff, patent pending you know."
Don stretched out on his cot, fluffed his pillow, and tried to relax. Doc spits out those numbers like he was reading from cue cards thought Don. Maybe after a few zís I can formulate my thousand random thoughts into a cohesive presentation..
Don tossed and turned for a while, then finally drifted off to asleep for a few minutes. He dreamed of large white diamonds in a clear blue sky descending on plumes of fire. He awoke and sat up quickly.
Iíve got to prepare thought Don. Quickly he made some coffee and began to draw and write furiously while his vision was fresh in his mind. Two hours and a half a pot of coffee later, Don looked up from his notes and began pounding his personal computer.
He saw the Power Circle as a ring of twelve towers, one on each point of the compass, N,E,S, and W, with two towers equally spaced in-between. Each tower was 11/2 feet in diameter.
Each tower was anchored six feet into the granite sediments comprising the shallow, sixty foot deep bottom. They were filled with layers of Docís plasment. or whatever he called it. The tube frames were two inch steel, then two inches of plasment, and then two more inches of solid steel. This would give them strength , some flexibility, and a chance to contain the coming blast. A web of plasment stretched between each tower. Maybe it too would help contain the blast of splash down.
This layered construction continued on the sections of the towers rising twenty-five feet above the lake surface. Here a ten foot tower section sported a one foot gap behind which loomed a ten foot section of spiraling titanium baffles. These would channel the wave forces of the splash down. Directly behind this tower section was a half tower welded onto the back of the primary structure. It contained a set of gears which transferred the spinning motion of the vanes into a rotary motion.
This rotary motion then turned a Teflon-coated metal rod affixed to a highly efficient turbine. It spun inside a compact generator and produced electricity.
The next five foot section of the tower was a solid chunk of the three layer material.
The top ten feet of the tower also sported a one foot gap and recessed titanium baffles rigged to capture the forces of the wind blast expected at splash down. Directly behind this tower as well was a half tower welded onto the back of the primary structure. It contained a similar set of gears, rotating turbine, and compact generator.
The electricity from both the upper and lower tower generators flowed into the huge bank of batteries powering the lasers. Each tower functioned in the sane way. Supplemental laser power would be pulled from the Niagara grid if needed.
Don lowered his head onto the table, just to rest a minute. The next thing he knew was Doc tapping him on the shoulder saying"Wake up, Don, weíve got to get ready to go. If we hit the approaching launch window, at top speed weíll be home in a year. Itíll take the space tugs a little over two yeasr to make the journey with the iczroid. They then have to reach orbital insertion into the desired polar Earth orbit."
"Whatís for breakfast?" asked the sleepy Don.
"I read your notes and finished summary this morning, Don, and you seem to have all the bases covered. Iíll fax your proposal along with my comments to the Presidentís Science Advisor this morning, unless you have something to add," voiced Druthers.
"If youíre happy, Iím happy, Doc. Did I hear you say that weíre going home?" asked the now awake and excited Don. "Thatís right, as soon as you get the gear stowed away and I get this last message off to Washington," grinned Doc. "Weíll then each confirm the course home, take our suspended animation shots from the robot, enter our respective sleep pods. and snooze for a year on the way home!" said Doc.
Don finished packing up the instruments for the trip home. He and Dr, Druthers checked the flight plan once more and got a go from the ground on their proposed launch window
."Why the rush, Doc? The icezoid wonít arrive for a year after we get home," questioned Don.
"Theyíre starting construction this morning. I guess Iím just anxious to see how well theyíre-translating our ideas into real technology," said Dr. Druthers hopefully "Robot, get over here! ordered Doc "Prepare the stasis injection. Verify dosage for one year duration." The robot rolled over to stand by Docís outstretched amn.
"Dosage confirmed, prepare for injection," chimed the robot. It fired itís air gun injector into Docís arm. .Doc stretched out in his cubicle and was asleep within moments. Don repeated the ritual and was asleep within moments in his own cubicle. Only the robot responded to the increased thrust that took then up to maximum speed For the next twelve months the pair slept, but they did not dream.
Twelve months later, the small ship pulled into stable orbit around the Earth. Attempts at communication were repetitive and immediate, but there was no answer to Ground Controlís repeated messages. Finally somebody at NASA decided that it was time to call the President.
"What do you mean thereís no answer?" barked the President. "You think they went for a walk or something? Youíve got a shuttle parked at the International Space Station. Now get somebody over there and find out whatís happening. Great gravy man! Since this thing went public on Christmas, weíve drawn more world press than the first moon landing back in 1969! Now get some people over there and call me the moment you know whatís going on! Ď I donít knowí is not an acceptable answer for the world press at this point!í
"Right away, sir," replied the frazzled technician. Ground Control thinks that itís probably just a communications glitch. Iíll call you the second we know something."
"Good. You do that. Goodbye," snapped the President. If we donít make that recovery on July 4th, 2223, I might as well start thinking about taking up trout fishing again thought the President.
A crew docked the emergency shuttle with the small Asteroid Expeditionary Shp.. They rushed through the air lock to find only the robot moving around. "Where are they?" asked Captain Clark.
His question was answered in just a second for there in their pods lay the sleeping Don and Doc.
"They havenít come out of suspended animation yet!" exclaimed surprised Clark. "Check the last log tapes, Wilson.".
"Thereís nothing to suggest a problem sir," said Wilson. "I think that we should examine the ampules that the robot used for injection."
"You think the robot made a mistake on the dosage?" asked Clark.
"Could be sir. I think itís worth looking at the residues of the injections," said Wilson.
"Very well, we need to check out all the possibilities," said Clark.
Wilson put the samples into his pocket lab while he poured back through the vaccine preparation logs.Suddenly he stopped and said "Damn!"
"Find something?" asked Clark.
"It wasnít the robotís fault," announced Wilson. "According to the prep log, the chemist who made the vaccines screwed up on the dilutions! He made the injections exactly twice as strong as they were supposed to be.
"Rats!"exclaimed Clark. "The President will have to be sedated after I tell Ground Control this and they pass it on."
"Yes sir, I said Iíd call as soon as we knew something," said Chief Mission Controller Ron Parker.
"Evidently it was a human dilution error. No sir, I donít know exactly when theyíll wake up, most likely next fall, or later."
The President was so furious that he could hardly speak. "Get those cubicles back down to me,
NOW! I want your top medical people on this, YESTERDAY!" He slammed the phone down and that made him feel a little better
Flight Com ordered the shuttle down with their snoozng cargo. Their top flight surgeons examined Don and Doc and came back with one opinion "If we try to bring them up too fast, we could kill them both. This is the first time this has ever happened and w really donít know what to expect."
The President managed to keep the lid on this story until February, 2213, when somebody on his staff leaked the sorry tale to the press. This was close to the secrecy record for Washington. Some partizan bastard thought the President
He had actually been pretty lucky. There had been some real technical delays, problems with the towers that kept the press focused for awhile. Finally though, he had to confront the matter publically. In his State of the Union Address, he announced í"We will move forward to a July 4th entry of the icezoid, with or without our two science heroes. Issues of National Security and the future of our great nation depend upon it." Not to mention the next election, thought the President.
* * *
The months flew by and suddenly it was July 4th. The President huddled with his Science Advisors.
"Itís going to quite a day. Too bad our two creators of this potential chaos are still asleep. Well weíll begin with you Masterson with an update on the pumping from Lake Superior,"stated the President.
Dr. Masterson stood up at the distinguished table of the Presidentís top Science Advisors. "The large pump was activated about two hours ago and has successfully pumped some 719,886,304.3 gallons of water into the Intercontinental Pipeline, or 62.7 % of our planned flow. Parts of California are already seeing flow into their secondary pipelines. The rest of this pumping, about 1.19 hours, some 428,257,721.7 gallons or about 37.3% of our total flow for this session, will be directed southward to the capillary lines of Arizona. Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.. These flows should start reaching them sometime this afternoon. Thank you." Masterson hurriedly took his seat
despite the warm applause.
"Excellent. Dr. Masterson. And now for the latest news on our towers , I give you Dr. Wayne Goddard of the Army Corps of Engineering. Dr. Goddard." prompted the President.
"Good day, gentlemen. I really donít have much to tell you except that all towers are functioning nominally. We are as ready as we can be for splash down at approximately 10 A.M..
"Thatís what we wanted to hear, Dr. Goddard. Gentlemen, I now present Dr. Mathew York, of the U.S. Air Force and NASA, who will detail the events now occurring on re-entry and splash down. Dr. York, Iím sure that you have all of our undivided attention," said the President.
"Gentlemen, Iíd like to begin with a moment of silence for Dr. Druthers, Don Pearson, and the awesome mission we are about to undertake. They all bowed their heads for about 15 seconds.
"Now. Weíre coming up on splashdown in eight minutes and Iím sure youíd rather watch the video coverage than listen to me talk. I will say that Don and Doc were so thorough in their planning that we only made two basic operations changes. We sliced about 80% through the cube at 1/3 and 2/3 of its length to promote fragmentation and elected not to use boosters as retro rockets on the final free fall of descent. The thrust of the last two seconds would be minimal compared to the enormous weight that the cube will realize at 100 feet when the anti-grav cuts out. And now gentlemen, letís go live to the video coverage."
The glistening cube appeared on screen. The two space tugs blasted free as the 100 foot altitude approached. Suddenly the huge cube stopped its decent. A quiver seemed to permeate the cube as anti-grav kicked off and the cube began its 100 foot plunge. It entered the lake surface at 50 ft/sec and shattered into three fragments upon impact with the lake surface. A series of huge water and wind waves hit the towers and started the vanes spinning furiously on the bottom and top. The web of plasment bowed outward, but it did not break.
The three fragments continued on to strike the granite bottom, bounced off, and began their slow rise to the surface.
Spontaneous cheers erupted from the scientists who had been spell bound by tje images.
"Letís now go to Captain Jack Monroe, live at Laser Tower One. What do you see, Jack?" asked Dr, York.
"Nothing happening. except a few bubbles-WAIT A MINUTE _SURFACE! Three fragmebrs have just broken the surface near the center of the Tower Zone!" A cheer erupted from the scientists watching the television coverage and the reporters packed onto Laser Tower One.
"Wait a ninute!" yelled Jack over the roar. He was receiving a message over his headphones. "Guess who just woke up!" He grinned. A hundred cell phone antennae suddenly filled the air as the reporters scrambled for the elevator and the stairs. "All lasers activate," said Jack.
It was late afternoon when Don and Doc regained consciousness. The first words from Donís mouth were "Whatís for breakfast?" Doc said "I never even heard the alarm clock."
The anxious President called just after they woke up. "Sorry you guys missed the big show, but itís great having you back. I could really use some help at the news conference tomorrow. I've sent you a very comprehensive video tape of the whole event. As you doubtless know by now, the whole event was an unqualified success! Youíre either both extremely lucky or damn well brilliant, and I choose to believe the later. Anyway, you should be well rested and ready for tomorrowís swarm feeding by the world press."
"By the way, let me be the first to offer my heartfelt congratulations on your remarkable achievement".
Don and Doc merely said "Thank you Mr. President."
Too soon it was 10 A.M.. July 5th, and time to face the cameras. Donís first question was "How do you feel having slept through the big event?"
"Iím just glad that itís over and it worked," said Don ""What an awakening!. Think how youíd feel if you were about 22 light minutes from Earth, fell asleep, woke up in an Earth hospital, and told that the event you had dreamed about for 10 years just occurred yesterday. No, really Iím O.K. Iíd just like to say thanks to all the great people at the Army Corps of Engineers for their great job on the towers, and thanks to the Air Force teams that assembled the lasers. By tonight I would guess that they will be wrapping up melting operations. And one more thing. For all those girls who have tried to call me, I now have a toll free 800 number and a secretary, so please call back and leave your name, number, and anything else you think I need to know. I hope that Iíve anticipated some of your questions, because that concludes my remarks."
Cries of, "Don,.Don.. Just one more question!" filled the room along with some scattered laughter but Don just waved them off
The President spoke in his defense. " Give him a break, people! Heís been through a lot in the last 24 hours. Hereís someone you may want to hear. Youíre up, Dr. Druthers."
Druthers made his way to the podium, but you could tell he wasnít anxious to speak either."Good day Ladies and Gentlemen. I only have one fact concerning the project that youíre not aware of yet. Yesterday , right after I woke up, I received a call from one of my colleagues, a biologist. He was concerned that the new melt water might be low in its dissolved oxygen (DO) content and might adversely affect marine life. As a result I contacted the Presidentís Science Advisors who immediately contacted a Naval Task Force, Within minutes we had an air pump and perforated line installed on the basin floor to bubble air up through the melt waters. The DO is now equal to or greater than that of the surrounding lake waters.
Iíd like to add NASA and JPL to our thank you list, and now the Navy as well. It took all our combined efforts to make this project live up to its expectations. And now, without questions for me, Iíd like to turn this conference over to the President who I am sure has some things that we all want to hear." Thunderous applause erupted,, both for Dr, Druthers and the Pesident..
The President waited for the applause to finally slacken, and then began.."Once every millennium or so scientific minds come along that fundamentally change our lives. Either through new resource utilization, new means of satisfying old needs, or giving us entirely new approaches to old problems. Don Pearson and Dr. Druthers are such men. I donít think that even they realize how significant is their achievement which has touched us all."
"Dr. Druthers assures me that we can repeat this grand experiment 99 more times using only the volume of his single icezoid that now orbits our world. This represents 114,000,000,000 g allons of fresh water This accomplishment will satisfy the incredible agricultural thirst of California with water left over to supplement the irrigation needs of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. It will buy valuable time for California to complete desalination and supporting nuclear power projects. He also believes other such icezoids exist, yet undiscovered..
Any excess water can be sent as aid to water poor regions of the planet, like regions of India, and Africa. Perhaps we can make a difference in the lives of the 15 million people a year that now die due to health problems associated with chronic shortages of clean, fresh drinking water. It may even give us the power to barter with some of the oil-rich, water-poor nations of the Mid East
"Finally we hope to see the cost of water drop for industry, agriculture, and the individual."
"It is for your fantastic scientific accomplishments and your service to further the means of humankind that I proudly present to you Don Pearson, and to you Dr. Dion Druthers.. our highest civilian honor, The Presidential Medal Of Freedom." The crowd erupted with applause, shouts, and cheers!
The crowd really went wild as the President draped the medal around each manís neck. Amid the pandemonium, the President stood between the two heroes, took their hands, and raised their arms high in the air with his.
That picture was on the cover of every newspaper in the world the next morning, The President smiled, Dr. Druthers smiled, but the grin on Donís face told the story best of all..
Bob is a retired Organic Environmental Chemist and Professional Musician living inn Graniteville, South Carolina. He still enjoys all media presentations of sci-fi and is working on a CD of Sci-Fi Blues tunes for distribution later this year. Bob previously appeared in Aphelion with: The Last Day Home (August 1999) and Triad (March 2003).
Visit Aphelion's Lettercolumn and voice your opinion of this story.
Return to the Aphelion main page.