Surfing with the Alien 3
Can I Drive Your Magic Bus to Surf City?
(Written by ClassicDrogn, revised and re-posted 6 August 2007)
I've heard it said that the way the Fen moved out into space was like reinventing the wheel 600 times over, and as far as it goes that's pretty close to literally true - while there were lots of build reports and more or less detailed plans to be found on the internet if you looked in the right places, pretty much everyone looked at what others had done and tinkered around until they got something that produced a comparable result, whether the method was similar or not. Everyone made thier own engine, their own space suit, their own air recycler and plumbing and a hundred other things. And, if someone wanted to build another one later, more often than not they had to tinker around with the design again, because nothing ever quite works the same way twice when handwavium is involved, at least not beyond the basic reaction when it's swabbed over something for reinforcement.
At the beginning of March 2010, a couple of years after our dramatic exit from the homeworld, this became particularly relevant to myself, Shuko, and Michael, as the arrangements made with the rock mining company we'd signed up with were completed. With our end paid off a particular chunk of nickle-iron was mined around and inside, then well moored and cut free. This meant that Shuko and Michael would be going off the company work crew to get the new hull ready to move, while I (after a week off to "celebrate" by busting our skidplates doing the really big stuff that absolutely had to happen for it to be mobile) kept going to fund the conversion from oddly-shaped chunk of nickle-iron asteroid to spaceworthy ship.
To make it short, we had to build a much bigger engine than any of us ever had... possibly the biggest anyone has, though I've never really checked on it. Michael's design had slightly better performance than most, but even so the hull would be so massive - a bit more than 5.3 million tons as delivered by Rockhounds - it would need a huge amount of power to move at any reasonable speed.
"Wave motion engine" has to be one of the most common names for people to hang on their version of space drive, being such a classic and with the innate pun potential, but it actually applied rather literally to Michael's. The closest hardtech analogue I can think of to it is a dye laser, crossed with one of those two-liquids wave tank desk toys, but instead of amplifying coherent light it generates a gravity wave, carrying an inertia-damped pocket along within the bounds of the drive field like a surfer in the tube of a big wave.
That analogy would come back to haunt us later, but the immediate problem on our hands was how big the thing needed to be... the hull was cut in the shape of a stepped pyramid and hollowed out inside, the lowest and largest internal deck being 380 feet square, roughly the size of two smallish football stadiums side by side, though with only a forty foot cieling. The engine casing was to be mounted along the centerline, three hundred feet long, eighteen feet wide, and thirty high. That's an internal volume of over 160,000 cubic feet, roughly half a million gallons that needed to be filled with equal portions of two different strains of soupy handwavium Micheal had come up with.
Fortunately, we'd been growing the stuff all along, along with the Seibertron type to use on the hull itself. Along with that, the top of the pyramid, where the shaft had been cut to mine out the inside, had be be fitted with an airlock big enough for me to use, and some temporary ladders put from one level to the next, since when the engine was finished it would provide internal gravity as well. This kind of large-scale work was nontrivial even with someone Transformer-sized to help, but somehow we got the frameworks in place and the big balloons of liquid handwavium nestled on the deck above where they could be squirted into the housing once it was ready.
Actually finishing the engine, with the various parts and systems needed to stimulate the liquid inside (not to mention a secondary powerplant to start the bootstrapping process) was up to Micheal and Shuko, and in the end we didn't quite make the nominal deadline - the rest of the rock was ready to be turned over to the buyer, but while physcally complete the 'wavechamber just wouldn't start up beyond gravity-generation levels, and we ended up having to get one of the smaller tugs to haul it out into a nearby orbit.
Systems were checked, continuity tested, chatrooms and fora consulted, and many, many bad words spoken, but eventually the magic ingredient was found: Surf rock. Obvious in hindsight, perhaps, but the pair that had been built to install in me hadn't needed anything so esoteric, just the occasional top-off with Yoo-hoo when the fluid level got a little low - it seems both types considered it neutral growth medium. How we figured it out is almost a joke in its own right - I've mentioned that Shuko tried to avoid swearing, or at least use words that didn't have religious or scatalogical overtones. Well, after yet another failed attempt at tweaking things, she howled, "Oooooh... SURF CITY!"
Micheal and I had been walking back from where we'd been alternating with her in making adjustments, and out of the corner of one optic I thought I saw something on a status readout we were passing. Taking a second look, I saw a tiny power spike had happended, before falling back to the barely-detectable rhythm that was all we'd been able to induce. "STOP!" I shouted.
All three of us froze, and I explained what I'd seen. Micheal and I took careful steps back to where we'd been, craning our heads to look at the display. Shuko tried shifting the control she was working with the same way. Nothing.
"Try shouting again," Micheal suggested, "maybe you scared it." Shuko let out a yowl, even louder than before, but still nothing.
"Try shouting the same thing... there has to be some connection," I told her.
Shrugging, the nekomimi sat back on her heels and called, "Oooooh, surf city!"
There. Not as big as before, but... I got a sinking feeling in my energon tank, and sang, "Well we're goin' to surf city, gonna have some fun, yeah..."
There it was again... nowhere near the kind of reaction needed to get over the self-sustaining mark, but my singing voice was never on par with Brian Wilson, either, even before the slight distortion caused by the synth system I spoke through as Wave Convoy.
Sitting down so I wouldn't fall when my body stopped working, I turned off Victory V on my iTunes jukebox, routed the output to the external speakers, and put the most genre-matching surf rock song I had in my library, Love Pipe by the Red Elvises, on.
The output graph went off the chart for a few seconds, until it rescaled... It was just shy of the break-even point, even with the annoying way my sound system echoed in the unfinished metal cavern of a ship, and with the fact that I wasn't really set up for playing things at high volume. All of us were stunned for a few seconds, then I turned to look at Shuko and lip-synched along as I switched tracks again and an electric organ intro swelled then lead into Stan Bush's classic vocals. "You got the touch... You got the power... YEAH!"
Power levels fell back to nothing, but as my body woke up again I couldn't care. I knelt on my lower leg tires and rolled sideways as my human friends danced in a circle with me, laughing and shouting with each other.
I should give a little background for the next part, if you'll bear with me for a bit:
Myrtle Goldstein and Irving Rosenberg both fled Hitler's Germany in 1938. They were each seventeen years old, Irving's birthday coming just a few days before Myrtle's, and the eldest children of their families, Myrtle traveling with her uncle wile Irving was alone. The two of them met on the ship that brought them to America and were married by the captain shortly before it came in sight of the coast. Though they threw everything they had into working and saving in hopes of bringing their families away as well, none of their relatives remaining in Germany survived.
When the war was over, the two of them settled in a small Vermont town called Waitsfield to start a hotel, catering to the fledgeling ski tourism industry as young men home from the battlefield sought to spend their Army pay and find new ways to get the adrenaline flowing. Neither of them thought they'd ever relocate again - or want to.
By early 2008, their small bed & breakfast was doing as well as it ever had, but their children and grandchildren had all gone into different careers and a big chain had offered to buy them out and build on the property, rather than compete. They'd managed to keep their health, but... at sixty nine, they were tired. The friends they'd made had mostly predeceased them or gone into nursing homes, and the familiar mountains seemed somehow closer together than they'd been when the couple was twenty five. They took the chain's deal, and bought an old Greyhound coach to refit and travel around in. After close to fifty years running a hotel, both were quite handy at interior remodeling. It was their youngest grandson, Herschel, who brought a bucket of thick, pinkish jelly up one weekend, explaining what Handwavium was, and what it seemed to do.
Why not? Irving had given her the moon for their first anniversary, when both had been madly saving every penny they could pinch, perhaps it was time to look it over from a little closer. They could always come back, after all, and if their bus could fly that would surely save expenses for longer trips. They went for it.
In September 2008 their grandson went back to college, and they took off from a cow field just outside town. Around the time President Bush was signing the draconian anti-handwavium bill that had been rammed through Congress in an unprecedented eight days into law, they were passing Jupiter's orbit on a course for Saturn to look at the rings - Jupiter wasn't on the path, but they'd see it and its moons on the return trip. Perhaps the grandkids would enjoy the vacation photos instead of just putting up with looking if Oma and Opa where grinning and waving like loons in front of a window that looked out on the Great Red Spot, eh? Eh?
Getting back to Earth orbit to find that if they landed to show them off they'd be felons was something of a nasty surprise, even if they had been discussing possibly extending the trip to tour the inner system as well now that those sailor girls were talking about a giant airship-city on Venus.
Cut off again from their roots, they could only thank God that this time their families wouldn't be in danger, and fall back on what they knew - catering to the tourist trade. Rosenberg Star Tours ran from a beachside parking lot in the Bahamas, specializing in day trips to the Moon for flybys of the Apollo lander and a stopover for lunch and shopping at Stellvia and Kandor, with week-long round trips once a month to The Island and Mars. Even so, by 2010 they were running the ragged edge of depression, and when their drive crapped out during orbital insertion around Luna in late March, it was just too much.
The Rosenbergs' tour bus was actually our very first tow and repair aboard the Gnarlycurl, and our "crew quarters" were still just plywood lashed to scaffolding set up on C-Deck at the time. We didn't have any parts on hand, for that matter - I magnetically locked the bus to my fifth wheel in truck form and flew it down to let the passengers off, landing on the beach itself so the slope would let the bus be relatively level with its rear wheels on the ground and the front end up on my hitch, then took off again before the US authorities could talk the Bahamans into trying to detain me. The tourists actually got quite a kick out of meeting "the infamous Wave Convoy" and several of them asked for quick rides in my cab. That wasn't too hard to oblige, but it was something of a trick finding a way to actually give the autographs they wanted - we finally ended up duct taping a Sharpie to my finger tip, and I made the smallest "WC" I could on the Polaroids, napkins, tee shirts, and so on - One somewhat alarmingly pierced young woman wanted it on her right butt cheek, and after she got off at the beach said she was going to a tatoo parlour to have it made permanent. I'm still not sure if I should have been flattered or worried, but with the way she'd husked out the earlier request for me to "take her for a ride, over the moon" and had her picture taken straddling my wrist like a merry-go-round horse, whichever it is, is still strong years later.
The elderly couple came back up with their ship, of course - they had some investments, enough that they'd planned to retire on them, but the bus itself represented the majority of their assets. Fixing it took longer than I had expected it to - Shuko is a damn good engineer and working with Rockhounds got her the field experience to hack hardware into shape with the best of them, but she'd never worked on an actual gas turbine like the bus engine before, and getting parts for it took a while on its own. Long before it was ready, Myrtle and Irving had fallen into a bit of a funk, and the only times they really came out of it was helping Micheal get the quarters more into shape, and in the kitchen.
I'll be honest, Myrtle took over cooking duties entirely, since of the three of us, I'd been the only one who ever went beyond nuking frozen dinners and cup ramen on our own. Now that my fingertips were bigger than the saucepan, that meant somewhat limited options when it came to eats for my friends, a situation she remedied to a tremendous amount of appreciation.
That was just before the Bottle City of Kandor hosted Worldcon 2010, where the current loose governing structure of Fenspace was laid out on paper and the treaty with groundside governments signed granting amnesty to those of us who'd fled the planet during the worst of the anti-handwavium hysteria. The State of New Hampshire had tried to have me listed under the exception for murder suspects, but since the body in question was either myself, or died from police-inflicted wounds before the AI that thought it used to live in the body became aware, that fell through - apparently Shuko had been considered to be taken hostage until she absolved me of it, and Micheal's involvement hadn't even ever come into it since he joined us afterward. That being the case the way was now open for me to join the revitalized fen hauling trade from Australia and other unrestricted zones to orbit to fund the continuing completion of our ship, and to sell some samples of cybertronium to Caterpillar and Dow so they could try to figure out what the 'wave had turned it into, with hopes of duplicating it with hardtech methods.
The Rosenbergs were no longer stranded among the stars, though I was still Persona Non Grata in the States. It took a bit of finagling, but when the bus was finally ready to go, we - Michael, Shuko, and I - set things up with their family on Earth, almost all of them arranging time to drive up to the Ontario Fen Trade zone and welcome the pair back. The reunion was enough to make me wish I'd installed something like tear ducts in my face, so it could bring a tear to my eye - and then my own relatives rushed over, a double suprise.
My nephews thought I was the baddest of all baddasses ever in the history of badassery, better than Xander Cage, Samuel Jackson, and Jet Li combined - They're just movie stars, after all, I'm their uncle who "beat the REAL Air Force!" They demanded that I build them cool robots as well - if they get up here after they're on their own, I promised I would. My eldest sister said it looked like the wanderlust gene kicked in a little late, but I'd gotten it with a vengeance - considering she hadn't lived in the same place for more than three years in the last fifteen, and rarely for two, that was significant. The younger (but still older than me) told me later that the day the Kandor treaty was announced was the first time Mum had looked happy since 2008, and I could believe it - Mum didn't do much all afternoon except cling to the side of my head where I'd perched her and sniffle into my audio receptor, but they were happy sniffles. Dad was funny, he kept commenting on how the joins in my bodyshell were holding up, comparing them to welds on the navy ships he'd worked on in the Quincy shipyard when he was younger, and it was still in service, and - heh! actually checked the pressure in my tires, when I said I hadn't even thought about it in the past two years, then said I had to keep an eye on things like that!
It was weird looking down at my brother in law. I'd had time to get used to mainly seeing the tops of people's heads, but... he was always around two feet taller that I was, and it was just different, somehow. Wierd all over again. My nieces loved Shuko though - they thought the catgirl look was the hottest thing ever, and pestered her for details on how she got that result until Jen told them they were absolutely forbidden from biomodding themselves until they moved out, and they'd better think twice then since the laws were still pretty strict. Jen (the eldest, their mum) is a laywer, specializing in business law - an extension of her streak of hiring on at small places that had grown to where the owner was having trouble keeping up the books, straightening everything out and getting it on an even keel. Then she'd get bored and decide to move to another state, generally, but she made sure to train someone to keep things going before leaving, as well.
We eventually moved to a nearby park where food for the happy army had been set up, and I got Michael's half of the suprise - he'd been experimenting with my original 'waved-microwave energon cuber, and found a way to set it up ("reheat..." why did I never think of that?) so that normal food items put inside before turning it on would be used as physical matrices to accumulate the energon in and around. To put it more succintly: He brought out the enerpizza.
Sweet mana of the gods, how I had missed a good slice of pepperoni-mushroom! Let none forget, energon cubes were invented by the Decepticons, surely this is how Primus intended us to refuel!
Anyway, everyone spent the weekend catching up with everyone else, joyriding around in my cab or on my shoulders, getting to know my freinds and Michael's parents, who arrived the next day, and so on. Things eventually broke up when the press got word of my being there and got pushy about wanting footage and interviews - it's hard to relax and chat when the Fox News van is parked between the picnic tables and the portajohns, and flashbulbs from various photojournalists are coming from behind every bush and tree. The BBC got the only interview from me, their woman actually showed up first thing in the morning but was polite enough to go away when we asked her to after I set up an appointment for later that afternoon.
Oddly enough, the BBC was also the only news service to broadcast the clip of me rather more irritatedly telling the Fox crew off for interrupting the family gathering, and that if they wanted an interview to call me when they stopped being a bunch of USGov yes-men. Their anchor dryly explained that the atmosphere had become tense that day, causing the breakup of the event.
Overall, though, it was a good time, and we returned to the Gnarlycurl with good spirit and refreshed determination to turn it into a place worthy to host the next get together. It was something of a surprise, then, when the next day after that the Rosenbergs showed up with Herschel, asking to join the crew. Aside from being cut off from their family, it hadn't been dealing with vacationers again that was getting to them, they'd realised, but not having a base to operate in - helping us fix up the living spaces aboard had been like old times, setting up their hotel, and there was plenty of room to stack two or three floors of rooms in C-Deck, where people could stay while their ship/homes were in the shop, or just to get out of the tight spaces of a carmod and stretch, or use a proper shower or bathtub. Herschel had graduated with a Business Management and Accounting degree, the only one of the family who'd had any interest at all in following a similar career as the senior Rosenbergs, but he'd also wanted to do it up here, rather than groundside. He was also fond of gardening, and it was his idea to have the park section of D-Deck grow food crops as well as ornamental flowers and trees.
That's the way our current core crew accumulated, except for Julian - one of the many Friez clones produced by the Professor's machine, he's the plumbing expert (and environmental control in general, but he insists it's just a fancypants way to describe plumbing,) and came along later. Shuko and Micheal do fabrication and repair work, Myrtle and Irving run the hotel side and gift shop/general store, Herschel does gardening and keeps the books, Julian keeps an eye on the engine room (Just a damn big storage tank, with plumbing to keep it workin' happy, he says) and I ferry supplies, tow in breakdowns, and generally fetch and carry things that would otherwise need a heavy duty forklift or a crane. It's a steadier trade than you might expect - sure, just about everyone can fix their own gear, usually they built it in the first place, but lots of them would rather let someone else deal with that while they have a nice relaxing soak in a deep, iron, clawfoot bathtub, or watch movies on what some have described as "God's Own Big Screen TV." My choice, it's my TV and my remote, and if you can't lift the remote you don't get a vote. A couple of high-percentage 'borgs have managed to lift it, but not while keeping a hand free to push the buttons. I gave them props for the attempt, but fortunately they just wanted to see Robocop and Ghostbusters, which I was totally cool with.
What ended up paying the bills until the garage was fully online, incidentally also ended up fulfilling the last of my three childhood dreams - I'd already flown through space, and we made a stop at Mars on our way to the Belt to walk on another planet - with my legal entanglements cleared Takara got in touch with me about having built my body in a style resembling one of their trademarks, and taking a name that was even closer. This could have been a problem, but I was all too eager to follow their proposal to make things right by them, and where it was literally my legal identity things weren't as cut and dried as they could have been in the first place... And so, with a temporary red, blue, and silver paint job over my green, dark grey, and gold, I embarked on a publicity tour for a yet another new interpretation of the Transformers, the third season that would tie into the Galaxy Force continuity, and while it had to be done in the orbit-based animation studio's cyberspace, I got to shake the hand of Optimus Prime.
Fulfilling the final contract for voice acting and publicity appearances took the rest of the year and well into 2011. We headed out to Mars soon after that, since the major Fen presence was getting to be there more than Earth orbit, and Jen was right - the wanderlust did hit me after all, a new sky was just what I needed.
Back to Surfing with the Alien 2