Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sample Saturday: The Patriots of Mars - Jeff Faria

Today's book sample comes from Jeff Faria's upcoming title The Patriots of Mars.  Mr. Faria was kind enough to give me a bit of insight into the concept of this book, and I must say I find it quite intriguing.  This week, we have Prologue II from The Patriots of Mars.  And of course, I'd like to thank Jeff Faria for sharing his work with us at Searching for Heroes.  Enjoy!






PROLOGUE II: 
Charles Hammer’s Demonstration

Most weekdays, Chicago’s Michigan Avenue was heavily trafficked. But on May 7, 2051, it was closed for Dr. Charles Hammer’s big PR stunt. This required extraordinary co-operation from public officials, even in a town notorious for ‘anything at a price’. The fact that he pulled it off with so little trouble spoke to Hammer’s reputation, perseverance, money, connections, and personal magnetism.

The cynical and jealous media credited only his money.

A materials scientist, Hammer was renowned for one of the 21st Century’s game-changing breakthroughs: A self-folding, permeable polymer web that led to the world’s first ‘true’ artificial intelligence, and eventually, MOM. He’d promised the media an even bigger story today. Dapper, philosophical, and a publicity magnet, he was legendary for his speed with a soundbyte. Early in his career, when a critic dismissed him as ‘50% Thomas Edison and 50% P.T. Barnum’, Hammer quipped: “Edison was 50% Barnum too, so technically I’m 50% Edison and 100% Barnum.”

Fifty folding chairs were set out on a carpeted area for media and invited guests. They faced a short bamboo stage a meter above street level, topped with a curved metallic structure whose main purpose was to intimidate through the obvious expense of its manufacture. Almost incidentally, it also provided shade and acoustic enhancements. Onstage was a large ultradef display and a marble lectern from antiquity. On the street, at either end and in front of the stage, were two 18-wheel trailer trucks set in opposite directions. Hammer had wanted ‘bot drivers, but the local union bosses insisted on humans. The unions were hurting badly from the incursion of ‘bots, and wanted to use Hammer’s limelight to make a point. A 600-meter spool of ribbon, made from Hammer’s new discovery, had one end attached to the back of each.

Hammer held a sample of the ribbon up for his audience to see. A showman to his core, he’d deliberately made it as ephemeral-looking as possible, to strike a dramatic contrast with the burly semis. It looked like nothing more than a wisp of blackish toilet paper. He raised the ribbon higher to flutter in Chicago’s famous wind, declaring it “thinner than a politician’s promise, but much harder to break”.

Hammer explained the nature of the stuff. The big screen behind him showed an animated diagram of a continuous-fiber carbon nanotube, which for decades had been the holy grail of materials scientists. He said its extreme light weight and strength would enable a number of important product innovations, and promised to elaborate after the demonstration.

The trucks roared to life and sped off. A counter on the big vidscreen rapidly ticked off the length of ribbon that remained. Just before it hit ‘zero’, the stunt drivers bailed. The spools ran out and the ribbon snapped tight, sounding a deep, dynamic ‘thunk’ that rebounded smartly off the nearby buildings. Both trucks lifted off the ground and twisted balletically in the air, screeching and groaning as their kinetic energies sought avenues of release. Finally spent, they fell heavily to earth, but Hammer’s material did not yield.

When the applause and chatter subsided, Hammer offered illustrations of potential uses for the product, such as reinforced concrete, faster planes, and crash-resistant automobiles. Referencing the latter he said, “The trucks you just saw were reinforced with a web made of our product.” The underside of a truck appeared onscreen, and a zoom-in revealed what looked like a bird’s nest made of swizzle sticks. “Had we not done this, at least one of the trucks would have had its back end torn off. You’d be thinking our vehicle was faulty, and we’d be off chasing the remnants down the street.

“Don’t ask me how we know that, by the way. I’d only have to lie to protect the guilty.” The audience tittered knowingly.

“We call our product Carmōt.” A logo appeared onscreen. “‘Car’ for the element ‘carbon’. Our product is pure carbon, just like the charcoal in your grill or a diamond ring. ‘Mot’ is French for ‘word’, and a word is a group of letters given meaning by placing them in a specific order. ‘Carmōt’ is carbon given strength by the order of its structure.

“Over the next two weeks, a dozen licensees will announce their own products based on this material. These will bear a ‘contains Carmōt’ label. As we find ways to lower costs through production scale and other efficiencies, we expect that many more products will come to market. We’ve been seeing a great deal of interest in Carmōt. In fact, it’s been a bit overwhelming.

“But there is one use for Carmōt we’re developing ourselves, and that’s what we’ll discuss for the remainder of our time today.”

Video clips of flying cars from Star Wars and The Jetsons came onscreen.

“There are two great technological lies of the past hundred years. The first is that, one day, you would drive to work in your flying car. The second is that we entered the space age back in the 1960’s.” Famous pop-culture spacecraft, from 2001 to Star Trek, flashed across the vid screen.

“We have made some use of space. We have satellites feeding us communications. That’s fine, but calling it a ‘space age’ is like calling a trip to the local deli a restaurant tour. Our ‘space age’ has had about as much to do with space as the Radio Flyer did with radio.

“Why is that? Well, like the flying car, our model for getting into space and back again just isn’t practical. Oh, we have ways of getting into space all right, but they don’t scale to a viable, practical, profitable space-based industry. If our basic transportation model was as impractical as our space model, none of you would even have cars.

“How do I know our business model for getting into space is broken? Because if we did have a reliable and pragmatic means for getting to space and back, we’d have a space-based industry right now, today. But that’s not what we have. What we have are satellite launches, and that’s about it. After all these years, we still can pick only the lowest-hanging space fruit.

“We have a crying need right now, today, for a mature, viable space-based industry. Among other things, we’re running out of metal, water, and minerals. Our planet is tapped-out, and we’re trapped on it to boot. We know that at least some of the resources we need are sitting out there for the taking, out in space, right now. We know exactly where they are, and we do want them - but we don’t go get them, because we don’t have a means to go after them that doesn’t cost more in resources than we could recover. That’s the hard truth. We can kid ourselves about that - actually, we do kid ourselves, and have for a long time - but there’s no getting around it.

“Our plans for extending human enterprise into space have never been plans at all. They’ve been government-funded stunts, sci-fi entertainments, and wishful thinking. We’ve been idly fantasizing, for decades, about how we’ll build an ocean with a thimble. That’s why, a half-century after 2001, we still have no Space Odyssey. We need to stop dreaming and start doing.”

Hammer paused while quotes like these appeared onscreen:

—————————

‘It's a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one's safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.’

- Alan Shepard, astronaut

—————————

‘I always considered every launch a barely controlled explosion.’

- Aaron Cohen, NASA administrator

—————————

Hammer gestured at the screen and resumed: “Let’s face it, this is no way to run a space railroad. Speaking of which: If we had waited for government to build the railroads - or the telegraph or anything else vital to the growth and well-being of our country - we’d still be waiting today. So then - why are we waiting for the world’s governments to lead us into space?

“Now as you’ve probably guessed, we are here to do something besides complain about this. Some of you may know that in 1895, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky first conceived the idea for a space elevator.” Concept art, some of it charmingly antique, appeared onscreen behind Hammer. “It’s a simple idea: A large satellite orbits a planet, while attached to the planet with a cable. The space elevator rides up and down that cable, which reaches high enough to escape most of Earth’s gravity well.

“Until now, no suitable material existed for the cable. It’s a long, long way up into space, so anything strong enough for the task would break under its own weight. That’s been the big hold-up, pardon the pun, until now. Carmōt is the breakthrough that will enable the space elevator and, at last, a true space age.

“If you were an investor, would you want your money in a business where valuable goods and personnel were routinely placed atop a ‘barely controlled explosion’ every day? Or would you prefer a business where key resources took a safe, predictable elevator ride to their destination? For a serious investor, the business of space has never added up. There has never been a sound business plan for space exploration. Space spending has always been justified by invoking adventure, vanity, national glory, Star Wars fantasies, and scientific research. But the investing world, which wants an actual return on equity, mostly considered space ventures as money thrown down a rathole. In our secret hearts we’ve always known this was true, and government’s the first resort for lost causes. That’s the real and shameful reason we’ve always instinctively turned to government for space enterprise funding.

“One perk of amassing a personal fortune like mine is not having to wait for anything. That’s why we’re not waiting for someone with an interest in space to approach us. We as a species cannot afford to wait a moment longer.”

A map appeared onscreen as Hammer continued. “We’ve built the base foundation for the world’s first space elevator in this area not far from O’Hare. Here it is, in this aerial photo. NASA, who we’re trying to put out of business, has graciously lashed together some decom’d satellites for our counterbalance, and nudged them into a geosync orbit about 38,000 km over the base. A Carmōt cable has been manufactured in an automated orbiting factory we’ve built, and one end has been attached to the satellites. Over the next few weeks the other will be lowered into contact with the base.

“We’ve obtained permits to operate a small, experimental version of the elevator. Should this be successful, as we expect, we will immediately begin work on a full-size version. Eventually we will construct a number of these on Earth, and subsequently on the Moon and Mars.

“As important as enabling a true space-based industry is, it’s not the only reason for this initiative. It may not even turn out to be the most important one. Exploration, on any meaningful scale, has always been linked to the expansion of commerce and profit. With exploration comes frontier, and as frontier expands so does personal liberty. In fact, I dare say that only the expansion of frontier or the collapse of institutions has ever expanded liberty.

“I don’t want to turn this into a political or philosophical forum, but I do want to make a few closing observations. It’s clear to me that we live in a world where the hand of government reaches deeply into nearly every human endeavor. The U.S. is moving steadily toward a de facto one-party system, which in turn is controlled by enormous multinational corporations and a handful of individuals far more powerful than any king who ever wore a crown. The rest of the world is in even sadder shape than we are. For the average man, there’s very little frontier left anywhere.

“Thomas Jefferson wrote that, in the course of human events, times come when governments become oppressive and must be altered or abolished. Those are fine and famous words, but what we’ve forgotten is that Jefferson never did alter or abolish the government that was oppressing him. The plain truth is, he and his fellow colonists were in no position to reform the British Empire. They were outmanned, outgunned, and outmonied. But they were able to get beyond the king’s reach and begin again. And we – all of us today, the entire human race - are immeasurably better off for that legacy.

“It is human nature, unfortunately, for institutions to grow corrupt and overbearing, and for ideals and dreams to grow weary and stale. It is also human nature to find new frontiers and refresh the collective soul. History tells us that when one oppressed man - one single man - is freed, all men eventually benefit. So you see, it hardly matters whether those of us gathered here today go on to the moon and Mars, or if others do so after us. What matters today is that, after so much self-deception, and so many false starts, the day of change has finally arrived.

This,” he said, his slightly-trembling hand holding the fluttering Carmōt sample aloft one last time, “paves the road to prosperity, freedom and hope. This holds the promise for the future of humanity. And like every great breakthrough in history, this comes along precisely when we need it most.”

Hammer’s small audience stood and, for the next ten minutes, cheered and whistled and applauded. In hotels facing the street, where more media and well-wishers watched out windows and on large ultradef displays, hundreds more followed suit. And around the world, where the event had been broadcast live, billions felt an unfamiliar, warm swelling of hope.

•••••••••••••••••••••••

Nearly two hundred years after Charles Hammer’s demonstration, and a week after the miners’ escape, a dozen pressure-suited figures wearing Mars-themed masks entered a Hammer-designed space elevator. On reaching the top, they broke into an enormous freighter in a Martian space dock. Overpowering the guards on duty, they proceeded to the cargo hold. There they found a shipment from Earth waiting to be unloaded, and dumped it into space.

Some of the containers passed through the old artificial Van Allen Belt, leaving a shimmering trail that was seen all the way from Earth.

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For more information on The Patriots of Mars and the latest from Jeff Faria, click here: The Patriots of Mars
 

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