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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 108: Kondor 78
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"Already we have learned so much," Dr. Breyer said, "just from the power supply. What you thought was a battery–well, it was a battery, technically, but not what we usually mean by that word. It was not a chemical energy cell, but an array of small capacitors. In charging the system, it is necessary to charge each of these capacitors. The internal circuitry then combines them to create the correct voltage and power output for the device."
Kondor was pleasantly surprised to realize that he could follow that. As the details of how this was done were expounded, he could see how a charging system could be devised. It occurred to him that while he was here, he should try to build something to recharge the weapon. A few low-voltage solar cells connected to a similar array could be set up to feed into each of the capacitors individually. It would take all day to recharge at that rate–but then, it had been years he had been looking for a way to recharge it, and something that would have done it in a day would have been quite welcome.
He had another thought.
"Could we build a copy of this?"
"What, of the power supply?"
"Yes, that specifically. Eventually we will probably want to copy more than that, but it certainly would be useful to me to have an extra power unit for the device, and I somehow think that the ability to make one is good evidence that we actually understand it."
Dr. Breyer thought for a moment. "I think you're on to something, Joe," he said. "We'll get people working on it immediately. After all, it's a wonderfully simple and useful idea, much like the strobe flash on a disposable camera only far more advanced. There are probably many things that could be powered from such a system."
"But for the moment," Kondor said, "you wanted me out here. I take it there's more to that than merely to tell me what you have learned–although I value that."
"Right. Well, we certainly could try to fire it ourselves; we have some pretty good guesses as to what the controls do and how it works. But it is a weapon, and one which we do not understand at all well at this point. So it makes sense to have you explain it to us, and show us how it works. We've set up some targets in the next room; will it be safe to fire indoors?"
Kondor smiled at the notion. It was certainly a good weapon, but they seemed to think it far more powerful than was even reasonable. That was probably because it seemed so like a ray gun. In truth, it was about equal to his other guns. It had some advantages. Because it was more of a blunt trauma weapon, there was generally little danger of it putting holes through walls–very important on a space ship. It also didn't require heavy ammunition; since the power supply could be reused and recharged from the ship's energy systems, it meant less equipment to carry, and more space for cargo. It was a quieter weapon, too–at least, the Mark VII was; as he recalled, the Mark V was a rather loud weapon, and was still in use in large part because it tended to frighten primitives. But every science fiction story always had some sort of super ray gun that made ordinary bullets seem obsolete. It would be a long time, Kondor suspected, before bullets became obsolete, even with kinetic ray guns.
He explained the functions of the controls. They weren't terribly complicated. One control determined whether it fired at single, double, or quadruple power; the twenty charges could thus be used up one, two, or four at a time. He set it for single, explaining that it was designed for practice use, although it should not be considered safe–a particularly skilled user could kill someone on that power setting. There was a gauge showing the remaining power, and it was aimed and fired much like a pistol. It had no kick, which for the first time struck Kondor as odd–if once you thought of it as projecting focused negative gravity, it seemed that it should push back with rather a lot of force. The people on the Mary Piper–the spaceship, not the sailing ship–had always called it kinetic energy, and it had not occurred to him that this was the same sort of energy as the gravity generators on the ship. He was not now even certain that it was; then again, there seemed to be similarities between them–or was that merely because both were invisible, and he did not understand either?
It also occurred to him for the first time that although this project was supposed to be about the development of artificial gravity, the sample device he had brought them was unquestionably a weapon; harnessing what that weapon did in a way that turned it into gravity might not be so straightforward a notion as one might presume. Making a similar weapon was probably very much a possibility. In fact, given what they knew and what they had, it was arguable that if they were going to develop artificial gravity from this at all, they were first going to have to produce a copy of the weapon system.
Having showed how to set the blaster to its lowest power setting, Kondor fired several rounds at the targets. He had not lost his old skill. It would be good to have the weapon back in service.
"I suppose," he began, "that the military applications of this technology are being considered. I've never known a government that would fund research without giving at least some thought to that aspect–or a company that would flinch from applying their technology to something the army might buy."
"Does that bother you?" Dr. Breyer asked.
"Well–I guess I figure it's inevitable. As a rule, I try to save lives, and I am very much against killing; however, I have killed several people and a large number of creatures who might have been people by some definition because it seemed the best of bad options. It certainly bothers me to think that I'm advancing the weapons technology of a world, particularly one about which I know so little–I don't want to be responsible for some bureaucrat deciding that his side has the edge, and it's now time to go settle some old score and take over the rest of the world or something."
Dr. Breyer laughed. "Yes, I guess we all wonder that about our work at some point. No one will lie to you, Joe. We are working on copying your gun. We think we're beginning to understand how it works, and that is a first step toward applying it to gravity generation. Obviously, if in the end we can't make a working version of the weapon, we don't understand the technology in some way. So it's a good test, a mid-term exam, as it were, of whether we're getting where we're going. And if it works, that will be reported; there's a good likelihood that they will want to explore ways to use that information. There will probably be a weapon development branch of the project for that. But from what I've seen, we're a very long way from making anything like that ray gun of yours. Anything we make will undoubtedly be larger, heavier, and far more expensive than would be at all practical for issuing to soldiers."
Kondor heard these words, but was already on another track in his mind. He knew nothing of this–this place. He couldn't even say whether it was a country, one of many countries vying for power amongst each other, or a world unified under one government. If there were many countries, was this a little one or a big one, a minor state or a superpower? If there was only one country, was it a voluntary union of peoples around the world, or an empire built by conquest? If it was an empire, were these people working for it, or part of a local rebellion? There was a lot of secrecy around the project. Of course, there always was such secrecy. Even in a world where there were no enemies on the outside, there would still be people who would fear advances, and others who would want to exploit them for their own benefit. If it got out that here, in this hidden research center, scientists were studying an advanced alien weapon, what sort of reactions would that create among the public? Was the secrecy here for another reason, a military reason? There wasn't really any way he could know, and at present everything that was said and done was exactly what would be expected on a purely scientific research project. He could only keep watching to see what happened.
He fired the remaining shots at the target. It would be good to be able to practice again; he should get to work on that solar recharger, and maybe see if he could include some sort of voltage conversion unit in it so that he could plug it in to whatever power supplies he found in his travels.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #116: Character Missions. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: