Thursday, August 12, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter XIV - the Beginning...

April 19th 2027
7:15 am
Somewhere in Alaska
Exact Location Classified

"Scan complete." The computer generated voice announced. The technician checked the screen and saved the imaging data for review after the experiment. It would be a year before they could do the comparison, so the imaging data would be saved in multiple redundant systems. It was a full body scan at the highest resolution currently possible. Probably technology would have advanced some and the next scan would be at a higher resolution, but that would be fine. The technician leaned in and spoke into the microphone. The MRI chamber could get rather loud so the subject was given earplugs.

"Okay, Dr. Hood the scan is complete." When there was no immediate answer he checked the vital signs, everything was fine, in fact respiration and pulse rate indicated that he was asleep. The technician shook his head in mild disbelief. Dr. Elias Hood was the only subject he had scanned with this machine that had ever fallen asleep during the procedure. He hesitated to wake him, but knew he would be anxious to begin. He left the control booth and crossed the room to the MRI tube. This was not your average hospital issue magnetic resonance imager. It was much more powerful, had a greater resolution and custom designed image enhancement software. Normal MRI images were based on the interaction of mobile hydrogen nuclei present in all living tissue in the form of water. But this unit could also extrapolate other elements based on the interaction of the hydrogen with surrounding elements. It was like the way an astronomer can posit the existence of an invisible moon orbiting a distant planet based on the movement of the planet. Not only can its existence be determined, but its mass and distance from the planet. This was on a much smaller scale, yet much more complicated. This ability, combined with multiple fields of view, increased resolution beyond the designers dreams.

It did however necessitate building a more powerful computer to process the information. The CPU core was the size of a man's face. It had cost about one point three billion dollars and eight years to develop. At 11.5 Thz it was the fastest digital imaging processor in existence today. The projector downstairs used twenty of them parallel. The motherboard was ten feet across and was not really a solid board. It had been custom built in five - two foot sections laid out side by side rather than stacked as had originally been designed. They needed to be flat for heat dissipation. All of it was extremely classified. Until the scheduled press release in six months, none of them were even allowed off the base without an ankle bracelet GPS device similar to those given to people under house arrest. The main difference was that convict's ankle bracelets were not bugged and loaded with neurotoxin ampules that could be remote activated. Not lethal, but very unpleasant. The company took security very seriously.

"Dr. Hood?" the tech gently nudged the man's shoulder through the sheet covering his body. He began undoing the restraints that held him absolutely still during the scan. Dr. Hood stretched and yawned once free. It had been a three hour scan so he was rather stiff.

"So, Jeffrey, how did the scan go?"

"Everything, looks good, the twins are doing just fine, you should have a normal delivery."

"Very funny, Jeffrey. Did you get the copies made?" he asked while Jeffrey helped him down from the narrow "baking rack" as it was jokingly called.

"Yes sir. Copies have been made and sent off to corporate offices and backed up in three different media forms here."

"Good, I don't want to have gone through that for nothing. Is the Projector Chamber ready?"

"I think it is, let me call down and see."

"Do that while I get dressed. Don't know why I bother though, I will only have to strip when I get down there anyway."

"Well it will be a cold walk down there and while that would not be a problem for me, I'm hung like a horse, other people are not as lucky as I am."

"Don't BS me Jeffrey, I did your physical when you started here two years ago remember?"

"Yeah, but it was cold in that exam room and Ms. Morgan kept staring at me. Bitch could freeze the balls off a brass monkey with that face." Their banter was interrupted by a chime from Jeffrey's watch.

"Well I better get going." Dr. Hood said before he shuffled off to get dressed.

"Hey Doc, see you next year!"

Down in the Projector Chamber it was even colder. The equipment had to be kept cool to function properly. Elias stood on the Projector platform listening while they ran the routine systems check. Not that there was anything remotely routine in what there were about to do. At least they were allowing him a robe while they were waiting.

"Any time Dr. Lacey." he said shivering.

"Now Elias, you know the preset is for eight o'clock." a voice scolded him from the the chamber's intercom. "We are almost done with the pre-firing system check." She peered through the booth's window at the man standing in the center of the chamber. His breath was visible as little puffs of steam. She checked the chamber monitors and turned to one of the techs and asked him if it would hurt anything to raise the temperature in the chamber by ten degrees.

"No ma'am. but it would take about an hour to do so. The environmental systems in there are just designed to cool the room, there are no heaters, we would have to pump in outside air."

"Hang in there Elias I will see if we can get you a cup of hot cocoa or something."

"Just have it ready for me afterwards, Ok? That and a thick steak and baked sweet potato. I haven't eaten anything in fourteen hours!"

"Well I don't think the cafeteria takes orders that far in advance, but I will see what I can do. It will have to wait till after the return scan though."

"Well be sure to take starvation into account when you run that second scan will you?"

"Oh, stop complaining Elias, you volunteered for this!" She turned her attention to chief diagnostic technician running the checks.

"How does everything look?"

"Everything looks fine, but I'm getting an echo on the number eight processor. It is shooting out repeat data on a twelve point three-five second delay. I can shut it down if you want:"

"The system can handle that?"

"The system can actually operate fully with only four of the twenty CPUs running. It operates faster with all of them running, but we should not notice anything with just one in a controlled shut down. It would actually be worse to leave it running and there be a problem, it could crash the whole system when the projector fires."

"Well shut it down then."

"Yes, ma'am." the tech turned his attention to his laptop computer, unaware that his laptop had been feeding corrupted code back through into the system while he was talking to Dr. Lacey. He had broken protocol by using his personal machine and not the isolated units provided by the company. The bug it had picked up from that porn site was mostly harmless little cookie designed to track track the websites visited and transmit the data back to the original computer through dummy servers. But the new host had no defenses, it was supposed to be a completely isolated system with no outside contacts.

"Number eight CPU is shut down, everything else checked outs fine."

"Ok get the control crew in here and get the generator's cycling up. I want us to begin on schedule this time, I don't want a repeat of the Guinea pig incident. I still have nightmares about that one!" The control crew filed in and all but the chief of the diagnostic crew left. The DC would remain to monitor the system and warn of potential problems in case they needed to abort. The generators were brought on line and the refrigeration units kicked up to maximum. The lighting in the chamber was increased to maximum and seven hundred sixteen video cameras were activated, all trained on the center of the chamber. The temperature in the chamber was now thirty-seven degrees.

A technician walked out to the center of the room to retrieve the robe from Elias. He now stood naked in the center of the room, very much aware that if he farted right now it would be recorded from every conceivable angle in high definition and preserved for all eternity on company hard drives.

The actual firing of the projector was anticlimactic. The generators reached their programmed output level of .25 gigawatts and maintained that for thirty seconds. Barely one tenth the design capacity for one of them and there were ten of them buried a hundred feet below them. The Projector Chamber was bathed in an intense white light that the cameras compensated for. Dr. Elias Hood was standing there in the center of the chamber one second, then he was not. There was a slight "thup" sound as the air around him rushed in to fill the vacuum but that was it.

"Well that was easy. Now, comes the hard part, waiting a year to see how this turns out. Of course there is ... " Dr. Lacey paused as a the sound of the generators stepped up. "Why are you winding up the generators?"

"That echo is back!"

"What! I thought you shut it down?!" The DC tried to tell her it was across the board now, all of the processors were doing it, but he never got the chance. The projector was now operating on its own, but now all the generators were running up beyond their designed capacity. The power management board indicated four Tera watts before the screen blanked out. All the lights went dead and for a moment it seemed like all the power had gone out, but then one noticed that the generators were still going and a roar that was more heard than felt washed through the booth from the Projector at the domed top of the now vacant chamber. They were all silent, looking out the booth window when it flared. None of them felt any pain of course. The pain receptors in their brain had been seared away before the signals could reach them. Some might have considered them lucky.

The projector was not not designed to take that much power, but when it was active it was not entirely stationary in time. It fluctuated back and forth a few thousandths of a second and this allowed it to handle much more power than its designers anticipated. The projector range was magnified significantly. It was really too bad the targeting computer was housed separately.

* * *

Sister Irene could only watch helplessly as the man thrashed back about on the bed, in the grips of a nightmare, perhaps some horrible glimpsed future, real or imagined or, and she felt this more accurate, past tragedy. She had found him mauled by a wraith, the dead beast not far from him. She had brought him home, cleaned him up and tended his wounds. But she was afraid that she was going to lose him.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride