Misadventures in Space
The First Lieutenant walked briskly over to the Captain’s sleeping quarters. Stopping a meter or so in front of the entrance, the Lieutenant examined the fine detail of the door. The planks of cherry wood showed their age with small cracks starting at the top and bottom and gradually working their way to the center of the door. The sturdy, over-sized brass hinges kept the door in place despite the inevitable color change as the process of oxidation changed the chemical composition of the metal. The large ring of solid steel that served as a knocking device gave the door an imposing presence.
All of this would have been perfectly normal on an eighteenth century three masted schooner bravely sailing across the Atlantic ocean defending the colonial interests of the British empire. However, this ship was a twenty fourth century science vessel designed to function in the near vacuum of space.
The Lieutenant was, to say the least, somewhat startled with this change. At the end of her last shift on the bridge, she distinctly remembered walking past the Captain’s quarters and seeing a standard issue carbon polymer composite door. While she didn’t specifically check the state of the entrance she was reasonably sure she would have noticed a six hundred year old sea vessel door replication as she walked down the hallway.
Remembering the purpose of her trip, the Lieutenant engaged the voice activated communication system. “Captain,” she said, “You are needed on the bridge.”
After a moment of silence, the Captain responded. “Knock three times.”
“What? We don’t have time for games right now, Captain. We are approaching the space anomaly.” the Lieutenant replied.
“Are we going to fly into it in the next thirty seconds?”
Slightly confused she answered “Not as far as I know.”
“Well, then it won’t kill us all,” the Captain explained, “if you take the time to knock on the door.”
The Lieutenant reached up and lifted the knocker. She hesitated before tapping it gently three times against the door. After the third knock she heard a strange beeping sound. Surprised, she let go of the knocker. An instant later the door opened. Given the drastic change in the door’s motif, she had expected it to swing open on the hinges. Instead, the door parted in the middle exactly like every other door on the ship. Even the knocker, which was positioned in the center of the door, had somehow split into two pieces and retreated into the wall cavity.
“Come on in!” the Captain proclaimed with a big smile on his face. “What do you think of my new door?”
“It’s quite,” the Lieutenant paused, trying to think of the best approach to take. “different sir. Not exactly standard issue equipment.”
“Exactly. Things are getting too impersonal around here. Do you agree, Sally?”
“Sir, I’m concerned. You don’t seem to be your usual self. You have never addressed me by my first name in the five years I have been under your command. Is everything OK?”
“No, I’m not at all my usual self. I woke up in the middle of the night and realized how much of an ass I’ve become lately. Over the years I’ve turned into the kind of commander I hated when I was just starting my Space Command training. Things are going to be different from now on.” the Captain announced.
“Captain, I don’t mean to change the subject, but we are approaching the anomaly, and you are needed on the bridge.”
“Of course, of course. We can’t spend all day chit chatting in my quarters, now can we? Not that we have days anyway, being that we are flying around in deep space and all. How about we go to the bridge so we can examine that big hole in space?”
“Yes sir.” The Lieutenant said as she motioned towards the door. “After you sir.”
The Captain and First Lieutenant arrived on the bridge without incident. The Captain sat down in the commander’s seat and took a moment longer than usual to take in the atmosphere of his surroundings before taking action. The rest of the crew waited for the Captain to do something.
“So guys, what’s this I hear about an anomaly?” the Captain asked to nobody in particular.
The half dozen people on the Bridge at the time didn’t know how to react, although the First Lieutenant was slightly less surprised than everyone else. Nobody was really sure who should answer, given that the Captain didn’t address the question to a specific crew member. Finally Zeke, the ship’s science officer, spoke up.
“Captain,” he said, “we have been tracking this phenomena for the past six hours. Our sensors detected it on a routine scan of the solar system’s inner planetary area. It appears to be stationary relative to the motion of nearby planets, asteroids, and other space debris.”
“That’s great, but what IS it?” the Captain asked.
“We aren’t really sure, sir. It doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen before. The ship’s entire science team closely examined the sensor data, and it does not correspond to any known phenomena. For lack of a better description, it appears to be a hole in space.”
The Captain turned his chair to face the science officer. “Space is basically a big hole, right? How can we have a hole inside a hole? Does that just make the hole bigger?”
The science officer didn’t quite know how to respond to the Captain’s question. “Sir, what is commonly referred to as ‘outer space’ is sparsely populated with various atomic and subatomic particles. Our understanding of the universe at this point in time does not allow for volumes of space to be completely devoid of matter. The properties described first by Albert Einstein and clarified in the twenty second century…”
“Zeke!” the captain interrupted, “I was making a joke. You know what those are, right?”
The First Lieutenant felt a need to stay focused on the anomaly. “Does this pose any threat to the planets in the system? Could this be some sort of a weapon?”
“Without knowing the cause of this phenomena, we can’t be sure.” Zeke stated, “But it doesn’t appear to be getting larger, and it isn’t moving. Based on our observations to date, we predict it will not intercept any of the planet’s projected orbits. However, in another three days the planet Barrius 3 will pass relatively close to this anomaly. We have calculated the orbit of this planet and predict it will pass within 100,000 miles. That of course, assumes the anomaly does not move from its current location relative to the planets in the solar system.”
The Captain sat in his chair slowly stroked his chin with his thumb and index finger. He was trying to decide if he would look better if he grew a goatee. He eventually decided that it might improve his appearance, but he was not in the mood to go through the itchy stubble phase. Next he had to decide what to do about the anomaly.
“Keep watching the anomaly, and report back to me if anything changes.” The Captain commanded. “I’ll be in my office preparing a report to Space Command if anyone needs me.”
The Captain stood up and casually walked off the bridge. The bridge crew wasn’t quite sure what to make of the Captain’s strange behavior, but they continued to perform their duties as directed.
The First Lieutenant, however, decided something more needed to be done about the Captain.
During their daily command meeting the First Lieutenant was preoccupied with the Captain’s recent change in behavior. She kept trying to come up with a reason for him to receive a complete physical and mental evaluation from the ship’s medical officer. Her contemplation was so enveloping that she completely missed the question the Captain asked her.
“Earth to Sally!” the Captain sarcastically shouted.
“Sorry, Captain.” The First Lieutenant replied. “I’ve just been concerned about your behavior lately. You haven’t seemed normal lately.”
“How so?” The Captain asked.
“Well, for starters,” Sally replied, “you held a ‘name the anomaly’ contest.”
“Which I think did wonders for the moral of the crew.” The Captain said. “That reminds me—I still have to pick a winner. My personal favorites are ‘rip me a new space hole’ or ‘anomaly schmamaly’. Which one do you prefer?”
The First Lieutenant chuckled slightly. “I would have to vote for ‘rip me a new… wait a minute. We’re drifting away from the original subject here. I have witnessed a noticeable change in your behavior over the past couple of days.”
“Have I not performed all my duties as Captain of this ship?” The Captain asked.
“Well, yes.” The Lieutenant admitted. “But the entire crew is wondering why you reprogrammed the voice of the computer to sound like some weird old guy.”
“Ernest Borgnine, to be precise. I’ve taken up an interest in twentieth century culture. I think we can learn a lot from our past. What is your point to all of these questions, Lieutenant?”
“OK, I can look past all of these things, but I draw the line at you inquiring about the crew’s masturbatory habits!”
“I was merely asking if you thought the crew was maintaining an appropriate release of sexual tensions.” The Captain replied. “You and I both know that on extended missions in space can take serious a physical and emotional toll on the crew. I just want to make sure we have a healthy crew. It’s not as though I was asking you to demonstrate the process to the entire crew.”
The Captain started to slowly rub his chin again. He couldn’t help but think about how such a demonstration would go over with the crew. After a moment of contemplation he decided that while wildly entertaining, it would cause way more trouble than it was worth. Also, he wondered if he looked stupid rubbing his chin that currently lacked any facial hair.
The Lieutenant was getting flustered with her lack of headway in this conversation. She couldn’t refute any of his points. His reference to a masturbation demonstration brought up some hazy memories of the wild parties she attended back in her Freshman days at Space Command. Sally allowed herself a moment to reminisce about the time when a few badly mixed drinks at an unauthorized dormitory party would be reason enough to accept the challenge of sexually frustrated male classmates to play a few games of naked three dimensional Twister in the anti-gravity training sphere. Unfortunately, being second in command on a small space vessel did little to encourage these types of activities. Despite the pleasant nature of the memories, Sally forced herself to maintain focus on the immediate situation.
She was desperately trying to think of a way to convince the Captain to undergo a medical examination. His defensive tactics during the conversation made any voluntary approach seem unlikely, and she didn’t want to go through the process of officially forcing the Captain to submit to the examination. She put her head down and ran her fingers through her hair in frustration.
The Captain broke the silence. “Sally, would it make you feel better if I had the ship’s Doctor give me a complete physical and mental evaluation? I don’t like seeing you upset like this.”
Sally looked up in total shock. For a moment she thought it was a joke, but the Captain was completely serious. Well, as serious as he was capable of being for the past couple of days.
Unsure of the Captain’s motives, but wanting to end the awkward conversation, the Lieutenant said “That is wonderful, Captain. I’ll make the arrangements with the Doctor right away. Thank you for agreeing to do this.”
The Captain looked at Sally for just a moment longer than social conventions would dictate. Then a big grin spread across his face as he commented “That’s funny, I thought it was my idea.”
The Captain walked into the ship’s infirmary and formally announced. “This is Captain John Albert Wilson reporting for a complete physical and mental evaluation.”
The head Doctor, who was happened to be treating another patient at the time, came out of the exam room and greeted the Captain. “Please have a seat in exam room 3 and I will be with you in a moment.”
The Captain complied and casually walked into the designated exam room. He sat down on the exam table and waited for the Doctor to begin the examination. Living on a space ship for any extended period of time requires a tolerance for tight spaces. But even large battle ships don’t contain much empty space. Since the entire volume of a space ship needs to be protected from such dangers as the near vacuum of outer space and small fragments of matter randomly zipping through space at high velocities, the designers were forced to eliminate aesthetic enhancements such as large atriums and auxiliary racket sphere courts. The Captain felt unusually cramped in the examination room. While the layout provided an adequate amount of space for various medical examinations and procedures, the flat gray walls didn’t do much to put the patients in a comfortable state of mind. As the Captain slowly ran his hand along the smooth wall he realized that it had not ever bothered him in the past.
After a few more minutes of quiet contemplation, the Doctor entered the examination room. “So Captain, what is wrong?” The Doctor asked.
“These walls are too bland in here.” The Captain replied.
In most situations, the patient would usually use this opportunity to explain the pain or abnormal situation that resulted in the reason for the visit to the infirmary. This was the first time anyone commented on the examination room itself. The Doctor was not sure how to respond. He thought the Captain was stalling for some reason.
“So Captain, what is the reason for your visit?”
“How about,” the Captain said “we have some children come in here and paint interesting pictures on the walls? I’ll bet that would cheer things up in here a bit.”
The Doctor was mildly annoyed, but he felt no choice but to indulge the Captain. “Well, sir, first of all, this is a science vessel that doesn’t allow children aboard. Secondly, these walls have been designed with special electrochemical properties that prevents molecules from adhering to the surface. This was done to keep the rooms free of germs and bacteria, but I think a side effect would be that painting these walls would be an exercise in futility.”
“You are a wise man,” the Captain replied as he slightly nodded his head in agreement. “I suspect you are correct on both points. But I’m sure we could do something to make people more comfortable when they come in for an exam.”
“Captain, sir.” The Doctor said while trying to conceal his emotions, “Why are you here? Is there something I can do for you? I’m a doctor, not an interior decorator.”
“Once again, I have to agree with you.” The Captain answered. “The reason I came into the infirmary is to undergo a complete evaluation.”
The Doctor was quite relieved that the Captain was finally getting to the point. “Have you noticed any changes in your body that I should be looking for?”
“My body seems fine. Well, at least as good as it has been in the recent past. The only noticeable change has occurred is in my head. I woke up one day and decided I’ve been too much of an ass lately.” The Captain said.
“Yes, I’ve been hearing rumors you have experienced a sudden change in your behavior.” The doctor commented. “Please lay down on the table so I can examine you.”
The Doctor picked up a small hand held sensor and held it a few centimeters above the Captain’s abdomen. “I am going to do a non-evasive body scan. This will only take a minute or so and you shouldn’t feel any pain or discomfort. Just lay there and don’t move.”
“You’re the Doctor.” The Captain replied as he mildly amused himself thinking about his own witty banter.
Once the scan was complete the Captain sat up. The computer analyzed the results a few nanoseconds after the Doctor completed the procedure. The results came up on a nearby display module.
“Hmm, that is interesting.” The Doctor commented as he looked over the results. “I think I found something that will shed some light on the situation. You seem to have a small scar in the side of your head. Based on the scar tissue at the point of impact I estimate the time frame of the violation to be between 15 and 20 days ago. I’ll have to run another test before I can be certain, but I suspect something was inserted into your brain.”
The Captain’s demeanor became more serious. “Do you think this is what caused the change in my behavior? What exactly was put into me?”
“I’m running a more detailed examination of your brain right now so I can compare it to previous scans stored in the computer database.” The Doctor said as he positioned another piece of medical equipment near the side of the captains head.
Once the procedure was completed the doctor explained his findings. “Whatever was put into your skull, if anything at all, has already been absorbed by the surrounding tissue. Your neural firing patterns have changed slightly, but in quite an unusual manner. In cases of involuntary neural modification the general motive is to drastically alter the subject’s behavior in a highly specific situation while not significantly changing how he or she would act in normal day to day activities.”
“So you are saying I’ve been brainwashed?” The Captain asked with a markedly concerned tone in his voice.
The doctor smiled slightly for a moment before he answered the question. “Well, Captain, the medical profession likes to stay away from words like ‘brainwashing’. But to answer your question, this situation does not appear to be one of targeted neural modification. Or brainwashing as you said. The neural changes required are quite extensive and easily picked up when compared to a previous neural scan. The other method is to implant a device in the brain matter that becomes active at a specific time in the future causing sudden and dramatic changes in the person. Neither of these scenarios is compatible with your current situation.”
“Is that your way of saying you don’t know what happened?” The Captain said.
“Given the physical evidence and the change in your behavior, I suspect someone used a neural probe of some sort to cause slight changes to your neural brain wave patterns. This would be consistent with the scar on the side of your head and the change in behavior. I did not detect any other abnormalities during the examination.”
The Captain was quiet for a moment. “So am I still fit to be the Captain?”
“Well, I am concerned about why this happened and what was the motive of the individual or group who did this to you. However, from a medical standpoint, you are physically competent to carry out your duties. While there has been some alterations in your mental state, I find that you are not being covertly controlled by any external forces. Your mental abilities such as knowledge, comprehension, and reason have not deviated beyond their expected parameters. I cannot find a reason to remove you from command.” The Doctor said.
“Well, that’s what I wanted to hear.” The Captain said, as he let out a noticeable sigh or relief.
“However,” the Doctor added, “I request that you report to the infirmary twice a week. Given the unknown circumstances of this injury I feel it prudent to monitor any changes that my occur in the future. I am concerned when crew members have serious changes in their mood”
“You mean like when Sally is having her little monthly visitor?” The Captain asked as he got up off the examination table.
After providing such a detailed medical examination, this comment caught the doctor totally off guard. He started to laugh, but instinctively tried to suppress it, but that only made the situation worse. As a result he started coughing uncontrollably. It was so bad that he had to lean against a countertop to get himself back under control.
Once the Doctor could breathe normally again he spoke up. “Boy, you got that right about Sally. She experiences very dramatic mood swings with the cyclic hormonal changes in her body.”
“Tell me about it.” The Captain said. “I have to work with her all the time. I put her in charge of all the crew work assignments with the understanding that she will give herself off the days when ‘it’ comes around. How come we can master Intergalactic faster than light travel but we can’t find a cure for women’s violent mood swings?” The Captain straightened up his clothes as he walked out of the examination room. “I’m out of here. I’ve got a ship to fly. Or make someone else fly, but you get the point. Thanks for your help.”
By now the First Lieutenant had adjusted to the Captain’s change in behavior. The strange and somewhat random comments had become expected. As she entered the Captain’s office for the daily command meeting, Sally thought the whole thing would be a quite a bit more entertaining if the crew wasn’t so busy trying to determine the cause of the space anomaly.
The door automatically closed behind Sally. The Captain calmly announced “Someone has drilled into my head.”
“And what size bit did they use?” Sally replied in a rather playful mood.
“I know you might not believe this,” the Captain said, “but I’m being serious. The doctor examined me yesterday and noticed the damage. I’ve granted you access to the Doctor’s report from my last examination so you can see for yourself what he thinks.”
Sally was silent as she worked to organize the numerous thoughts in her head. She quickly scanned the medical report while throwing a constant volley of questions at the Captain. “Who did it to you? Are you in danger? Do we need to head back to the space port to see if anyone else has been effected? Is this why you have been acting differently?”
“Slow down Sally.” The Captain answered. “First of all, I’m fine. Secondly, it’s too late to know what, if anything, was placed in my skull. I don’t think pursuing it any more is going to do be productive.”
“How can you take such a casual approach to the situation?” Sally asked. “Someone violated your body and mind. How can you dismiss that?”
The Captain looked blankly at Sally. “What can I do about it? Besides, I’m happier now.” He replied.
Sally didn’t quite no what to say. “Don’t you want a criminal investigation? We need to get to the bottom of this.”
“First of all,” the Captain said, “I was on two week’s vacation on Barrius 3 when this happened. I wasn’t with any of the crew when the wound was created. Secondly, we have more important things to deal with right now. Which I think is a wonderful segue into your report about the space anomaly.”
“Yes sir. We have been scanning the anomaly for the past 3 days and have little new information. It is not consistent with anything we have every seen before, so we are working under the assumption that someone or something is causing it for reasons unknown at the moment.” The First Lieutenant reported. “Over the past 72 hours we have launched three probes into the center of this disturbance. We have no idea what happened to the first one. The other two we located on the other side of the galaxy. We were unable to extract any information from them due to massive gravitational forces sustained while in the anomaly.”
The Captain stood up and walked over to the window. His eyes gazed out into space as he thought about the future. Without turning around he started speaking “tell us your secret, you big hole in space.”
“The anomaly is currently on the other side of the ship, Captain.” Sally commented with a lighthearted tone in her voice.
Surprised by her response, the Captain turned his head and looked right at Sally. In a completely serious tone he replied “well now, I suppose that’s why it didn’t answer my question.” As he sat back down he couldn’t help but let a slight smile creep onto his face.
“Well, Captain, even if you were looking directly at the anomaly you would not know it. It’s effects can only be seen on high frequency scans. The wavelengths that can be detected by the human eye are not part of the disturbance.” The First Lieutenant replied apologetically. Despite the Captain’s recent change in behavior, she felt is was not proper to insult the Captain’s intelligence.
The Captain wasn’t concerned in the least. “Let’s keep observing this anomaly for the next 24 hours. If nothing interesting happens to it, we will return to our original destination at spaceport 23.”
“Yes Sir.” The First Lieutenant replied. “Anything else, Sir?”
“Yeah—let’s keep this thing about the hole in my head between you and I. I think if the whole crew knew about it they would be coming up to me wanting to look at it and see how far into my skull they could stick their finger. And in reality it is just a tiny scar covered by hair anyway. Nothing very interesting to look at. I don’t want to be the ship’s sideshow freak.”
“Now get back onto the bridge and make sure someone is actually flying this ship.” The Captain commanded.
Sally obeyed his order and headed to the bridge. For reasons she didn’t really understand, she felt more comfortable after the meeting. While the examination of the Captain explained to some degree what happened, it only raised more questions about who did it and why. If anything, she was more unsure about the state of the Captain. Is someone trying to manipulate the Captain? Who would want to gain control of a small science vessel in an insignificant section of the universe? And was she imagining things, or had the Captain not shaved in the past few days?
Life on Barrius 3 was pretty typical of twenty sixth century planets whose dominant species were Homo Sapiens. Issues such as producing food and energy, coexisting with the environment, and removing excessive packaging from musical storage devices had long been resolved.
The path to this state of human development was anything but smooth. Back in the twenty second century the process of cold fusion was refined and put in wide scale use on planet Earth. A single glass of water provided enough energy to keep a large sized city running for a month. This technological innovation created numerous social and environmental issues. First of all, the cost of a glass of water at most upscale restaurants skyrocketed. Despite a plentiful supply of drinking water, the management insisted that since a glass of water could be put to much better use, giving it away to anyone who asked was violating the fundamental principles of economics.
And of course the petroleum industry stood behind the restaurants claiming that if the process of cold fusion was implemented as a power source aliens from all over the galaxy would attack the planet in an effort to suck all the water off the planet. As evidence, they cited the twentieth century movie and miniseries “V” where this exact scenario occurred. Despite the fact this was a work of fiction, any alien species who have been listening to Earth’s radio wave transmissions would have seen the footage and launched an invasion force. If not for the water itself, than possibly for the simple irony of destroying a civilization with the premises of their own low budget science fiction movies.
After much debate, a compromise solution was developed. Under extremely tight security, a new movie was produced where scientists on Earth developed a new type of “diet water” was produced that, while perfectly safe for human consumption, was unsuitable for creating energy using the cold fusion process. The sequel, named “W” was not much of a commercial success on planet Earth, but it did provide everyone on the planet suitable psychological protection against evil water stealing aliens.
The environmental impact of cold fusion also created some problems. While massive quantities of carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels were no longer being produced, global warming was still an issue. With so much energy available to the entire population, people were coming up with all kinds of new ways to use this resource. Launching things into space became a popular social activity. Mountain ranges could be created to host ski resorts. Lakes were built to increase real estate values. All of these activities generated massive amounts of heat.
Eventually massive planetary cooling systems had to be developed and a special “heat tax” was created to limit these activities. The money collected was spent developing large scale cooling devices that redirected excess heat from the planet’s surface into the core of the planet and the extreme upper atmosphere.
Despite these inconveniences, the planet Earth became a much nicer place to live. Cold fusion, combined with advances in genetic engineering provided ample food and building supplies for the population. Traditional farming techniques were abandoned in favor of accelerated genetic production. The process was quite simple. Input the genetic code of, say, a potato into the production vat, fill it up with a general solution of amino acids and press the “start” button. In a mere 5 minutes, the vat would be filled with a potato like substance genetically identical to ones grown in the dirt.
This innovation caused massive social disorder in the world. Since roughly one third of the population at the time was involved with food production, the planet had a whole bunch of people who really didn’t have much to do with their days. While there was an initial interest in farm equipment demolition events, eventually society focused their efforts on academic pursuits.
Given that a large percentage of the population was working in the field of scientific discovery, its not much of a surprise that inter galactic space travel was soon perfected. While Einstein’s theory of relativity states that nothing can accelerate past the speed of light, he didn’t say anything about squishing space up for a short amount of time to make a trip go by faster. The basic idea was to figure out where you wanted to go and point the orthogonal compression generators towards the final destination. Once activated, a narrow column of space was compressed a specified number of orders of magnitude. The space vessel would then enter the compression column and accelerate at a rate to coincide with the compression factor. In a matter of minutes it would arrive near it’s destination, move out of the compression column, and use traditional cold fusion engines to reach the final destination.
Of course the operators of the orthogonal compression generators had to be careful to plot courses that were free of significant molecular particles. While in general space is extremely devoid of matter, a few accidents occurred in the early development of this technology. One of the most notable incidents involved a generator that was accidentally fired at the earth’s moon. For several years after the fact, inhabitants of Earth could still see the twenty meter wide hole with the aid of an optical telescope when the moon was full. After several rounds of finger pointing, name calling, and foot dragging, an engineering construction team was sent out to restore the moon to more or less its original condition.
The human race took some lessons from the mating habits of rabbits as the planet’s supply of food and energy were for all practical purposes unlimited. As the population of Earth surpassed fifty billion people, the governments of the world were quite eager to send ships off to go colonize other planets. Preliminary scouting reports showed that Barrius 3 was quite similar to Earth in terms of atmosphere and climate variations. Primitive plant and animal life was evolving, no stray asteroids were scheduled to collide with the planet in the foreseeable future, and it just seemed like a nice enough planet on which to expand the human race.
Over the course of an Earth century, a few million people settled on Barrius 3. Being a similar size to Earth, it could have supported a few billion people without too much trouble. Given the massive number of inhabitable planets in the galaxy, packing people on a single planet wasn’t really a priority. Modest sized cities were set up for the more social types, and anyone who wanted to wander out could look around and claim an area of up to 10 square kilometers for themselves. A system of government was set up to make sure everything ran smoothly and everyone behaved themselves.
Calvin Brooks was not the type of person who generally behaved himself. While not a bad person, Calvin had more than his share of emotional issues. His parents were among the first settlers to arrive on Barrius 3. While packing up and moving across the galaxy seemed like a good idea at the time, Calvin’s parents quickly grew homesick for Earth. Unfortunately, Earth didn’t miss them back. Despite their appeals to return to the planet of their birth, they would not be permitted to come back until the population on Earth was stabilized. According to current projections, Brooks family would be invited back to their home planet a mere two hundred years after the Earth’s sun was scheduled to run out of fuel and collapse under it’s own weight.
Stuck on Barrius 3, Calvin’s parents lived a rather uneventful existence. They produced three children and worked just enough to maintain a minimal lifestyle. Calvin’s father would occasionally tinker around with cold fusion engines to try and put them to new uses. Life around the house was pretty dull. With the exception of his father, everyone spent most of their free time sitting around watching the holo-projector.
The most interesting things that ever happened to Calvin was witnessing a full scale fusion explosion while out wandering aimlessly outside after an argument with his siblings over the state of the holo-projector. Despite being more than a mile from the explosion, the force of the explosion knocked him to the ground. Calvin had a strong suspicion that his father had blown up the house. Unfortunately, this happened to be one of the few times Calvin was exactly correct. Police investigators determined that a prototype cold fusion washing machine that was the cause of the accident.
After losing his entire family (and all his dirty clothes used to test the prototype appliance), Calvin wandered around the major cities on Barrius 3 without any real purpose in life. Whenever the opportunity came up he would drink excessive quantities of alcohol. He openly admitted that he was an alcoholic, but at the same time he admitted he didn’t care or have any desire to change. He liked to tell people that he didn’t like alcohol, but alcohol sure liked him. Often times he would wake up in the morning and not remember anything that happened the previous night. Not remembering the past was one of the few things in life that gave Calvin any real comfort.
One time after a night of drinking Calvin woke up in the driver’s seat of a personal propulsion device. Calvin found this to be rather strange since he had never bothered to learn to drive one. Supporting this claim was the fact that this vehicle had been smashed into a building used by local police department. Officers were quick to arrive at the scene. This, of course, was largely due to the fact that the accident was considerate enough to occur partially inside the building where the officers were sitting around waiting for something interesting to happen.
The police put together a very convincing case against Calvin. Having been completely intoxicated at the time, he had very little to contribute to the investigation besides a generous urine sample. But after listening to the evidence the police came up with Calvin was pretty much convinced that he was guilty. Not being much of a fighter, he formally plead guilty to all the charges to avoid the hassles of a trial. A judge sentenced Calvin to five years of incarceration on the recently completed prison moon.
Given the low crime rate and relatively minor threat the criminals on Barrius 3 posed to the law abiding public, there was absolutely no need to locate prisoners in extremely isolated places. The fact that Barrius 3 lacked a natural lunar satellite was another logical reason to keep any and all penitentiaries on the planet’s surface.
Those two reasons probably would have been reason enough to convince the government of Barrius 3 to build a traditional surface based prison system. The rumors flying around about engineers on Earth building artificial moons did quite a bit to alter the situation. Tired of living in the figurative shadow of Earth, the Barrian people decided to do everything in their power to have their own moon. Using the moon to house prisoners became a natural progression of the project. Most of the population didn’t object to having convicted criminals be used as test animals to measure the long term effects of this new concept in planetary engineering. It also helped in punishing small children when they misbehaved. Mothers could point up into the sky and tell their kids “they have room for you up there for little boys who shove bananas up their nose at lunch.”
Despite the lack of any good reason to build it, the prison moon of Barrius 3 was quite an impressive technological accomplishment. As with most government projects, the moon project had to gain the approval of numerous agencies. This included (but was not limited to) the Department of the Environment, the Agency of Planetary Trajectories, and of course the Committee of Citizens Who Fear Change. While the idea of an artificial moon enjoyed support of the project from the general population, obtaining the necessary permits took longer than the actual construction phase.
The Department of the Environment wanted the moon to be placed in a high orbit to minimize the effects of the climate of Barrius 3. Of course that approach would severely alter the motion of the planet, so the APT raised countless objections to the project. After years of tweaking and refining the construction specifications a plan was developed which a half dozen agencies declared would “irreparably damage the best interests of the planet.” Since this was eight levels less severe than their original analysis of “causing the Cosmos to fold in on itself” the Committee for Planetary Alterations voted to give the project the green light.
The first step was to create a series of redundant matter repulsion devices on the surface where the moon was to be located. This was designed to facilitate the construction of the moon and prevent it from crashing back onto the planet’s surface. Thirteen repulsion devices were built in the area. Each device contained its own power source and was controlled by a nearby command station. In addition to periodic downtime for cleaning and inspection, the system was designed to handle the simultaneous failure of seven repulsors. Given the extremely unlikely event of eight repulsors being offline, the remaining five would be able to keep the moon from crashing into the planet.
Once the repulsion devices were installed and thoroughly tested, the bi-directional gravitational stabilizer was positioned at what would eventually become the exact center of the moon. Its purpose is to increase the local gravitational forces. This serves three purposes—first of all, it keeps soil from escaping the surface of the moon and falling back to the planet. Secondly, it counters the gravitational effects of the planet. With out this compensation, someone standing on the point on the moon furthest from the surface of the planet would encounter twice the normal gravity. Likewise, anything on the bottom of the moon would experience near zero gravity and most likely fall back to the planet surface. Finally it keeps the moon slowly rotating about an axis parallel to the surface of the planet. This prevents a perpetually dark side of the moon.
Once all this equipment was in place, all that was left to do was provide a steady stream of soil on the top of the matter repulsion devices. This was accomplished with a very low tech conveyor belt. Once the soil and rock reached the matter repulsion device it rose up as the gravitational force of the stabilizer was greater than the gravity on the planet. From a distance of a few kilometers spectators could see a constant stream of dirt flying up to what would eventually become an inhabited artificial moon. After two years, the process had created a moon of the specified volume.
It didn’t take long to build the prison once the moon part of things had been completed. Traditional prisons generally have some elaborate design to keep the occupants from leaving prematurely. Since the prison was the moon, and vice versa, there was no need to restrict movement of the prisoners. Modest but functional housing was built on various parts of the moon. Transportation to and from the moon was accomplished through the matter repulsor devices. New prisoners and food rations were placed on a repulsor and the force was modified to provide a gentle lift to the moon surface. Prisoners to be released were given instructions on where to stand to be returned to the mainland.
With the exception of completely uncontrollable inmates, the prison moon population was free to move about. Since all the housing was identical and food rations randomly landed on the surface, there was really no competition for status. Prisoners generally sat around, talked among themselves, and stared at surface of Barrius 3 as they waited for their sentences to be completed. The surface of the moon was observed from the command center to make sure the inmates behaved themselves.